Long, long ago, there was a man named Rosei in the country of Shu Han in China. He was directionless in life until one day he heard about a great priest on Mount Yōhi in the land of Chu, leaving his home in order to meet the monk. On his way to Mount Yōhi, he stays at an inn in the village called Kantan. Following the advice from the mistress of the inn, Rosei decides to take a nap on a mysterious pillow, “the pillow of Kantan,” while waiting for a meal to be prepared; she had received the pillow of Kantan from a master of the mystic Hsien art of Taoism. It was said that a person could attain enlightenment for their future once they used the pillow.
While Rosei is taking a nap an imperial messenger from the emperor of Chu comes for him. He tells Rosei he was dispatched in order to deliver the message that Rosei will succeed to the throne. Although dubious about the unexpected offer, Rosei rides in a shining litter to the palace and assumes the throne.
Fifty years passed since Rosei assumed the throne; a feast is given at the palace to celebrate the fifty years of his reign. Rice wine for longevity is offered as a gift to the emperor. When dancers perform a dance in celebration, Rosei is amused and begins to dance. The days and nights and the seasons start to change quickly in front of Rosei’s eyes. Although he enjoys the kaleidoscope-like altering views at the beginning, it begins to become fragmented, and eventually everything vanishes. Rosei awakes as the mistress of the inn comes to wake him up for the millet meal. His fifty-year reign all happened only in a dream.
The fifty years of glory are just a dream which Rosei had during a nap. And the dream is actually as short as the length of time it took to cook millet. Rosei attains the awareness that actual life in this world is as fragile as his dream. With gratitude he departs for home as his need has been fulfilled.
Noh (能, Nō, derived from the Sino-Japanese word for "skill" or "talent") is a major form of classical Japanese dance-drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Noh is often based on tales from traditional literature with a supernatural being transformed into human form as a hero narrating a story. Noh integrates masks, costumes and various props in a dance-based performance, requiring highly trained actors and musicians. Emotions are primarily conveyed by stylized conventional gestures while the iconic masks represent the roles such as ghosts, women, children, and the elderly. Written in late middle Japanese, the text "vividly describes the ordinary people of the twelfth to sixteenth centuries". Having a strong emphasis on tradition rather than innovation, Noh is extremely codified and regulated by the iemoto system. Noh was seen as an upper-class/nobility version of Kabuki Theatre, but in the later part of the 20th century has developed a new-found audience in Japan and abroad.
Kogyo's Vertical Noh Prints
Shortly before his death in early 1927, Kogyo completed work on his masterpiece series, "One Hundred Noh Dramas." This beautiful series took several years to complete, and reflects Kogyo's consummate skill in drawing and composition. The Noh Theater in Japan is known for its spare stage decoration and sumptuous costumes, and Kogyo's minimalist designs reflect this. Delicate patterning, lush coloring, and embellishments such as silver and gold mica and embossing capture the rich costumes worn by the actors. The soft watercolor-like backgrounds provide a painterly contrast to the carefully detailed figures. These wonderful prints required extreme care on the part of the carvers and printers to bring Kogyo's vision to life. The great Noh print master Kogyo reached the pinnacle of his career with these wonderful, vertical Noh designs. His fantastic series is a great favorite of collectors and a rare and desirable set.
The Woodblock Prints
This oban is in very good condition with rich colors, no discoloration. There is slight residue of tape on the verso from being affixed to matting. Vibrant colors enhanced with patterning in metallic inks. Close inspection of the prints allows the viewer to see the woodgrain of the block within the print.
About the Artist
Tsukioka Kōgyo (月岡 耕漁, Tsukioka Kōgyo), sometimes called Kōgyo Sakamaki (坂巻 耕漁, Sakamaki Kōgyo), was a Japanese artist of the Meiji period (April 18, 1869 – February 25, 1927). He was a student and adopted son of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, and also studied with Ogata Gekkō. Although Kōgyo sometimes painted other subjects, most of his career centered around pictures of Japanese noh theatre, either as large-scale paintings or colored woodblock prints. Many of the latter were published in series and sold as multi-volume sets. Some sets, such as Nōgaku zue, have been preserved as albums in their original bindings, including accordion-style bindings known as orihon, while other sets such as Nōga taikan, were issued in sewn bindings known as yamato toji.
Unlike most ukiyo-e prints, his works have an almost painterly quality and use gold and silver for the Noh costume embellishments. Kogyo's woodblock prints required very skilled engravers and printers to produce. Kogyo died in Tokyo at the age of 58.