Around the end of the year, the emperor (Emperor Ōi) sent an imperial messenger with offerings of treasures to Ise Grand Shrine. The messenger arrives at Saigū Palace in Ise and hears about a ritual on New Year’s Eve (the day preceding the first day of spring, according to the lunar calendar), on which a wooden votive tablet will be hung up and displayed. The messenger decides to witness the ritual before going back to Kyoto... when the night grows late, an old man and old woman come to pray at the shrine. The old man has a wooden votive tablet on which a white horse is painted, and the old woman has one on which a black horse is painted. These paintings of horses predict the weather; the white horse means it will be sunny while the black horse means it will rain. The tablet displayed at the shrine at the end of the year predicts the weather of the next year. Every year, either a tablet with a white horse or a black horse is put on display. The two of them insist upon hanging up the tablet they each are holding: “This year, let’s offer this white horse tablet.” “We shall offer this one with a black horse.” The old man and old woman argue with one another. In the end, however, they hang both tablets side by side. They decide to pray for both sunny days and rainy days so that people can enjoy well-balanced weather. The old man and old woman reveal that they are the two gods of Ise (two gods serving to the two principal gods of Ise) who have transformed themselves into this couple. They tell the messenger to look for them at dawn and then disappear into the darkness.
The male god and female god appear before the messenger, and then Amaterasu Ōmikami, the Sun Goddess, makes an appearance. The three of them perform a dance depicting the scene of Amano Iwato in mythology (the legend that Amaterasu Ōmikami hid in a cave behind a massive rock door).
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.