Kyoto was the main center of activity for the production of kappazuri-e (stencil prints, literally, "oil-skin prints"), with a tradition spanning close to a century. Prints of teahouse women and courtesans represented one important aspect of this genre, although they amounted to only a small fraction of the total output—among these were the Gion nerimono-e of Kyoto (see references below). More common were actor prints (yakusha-e: 役者絵).
Once abundant throughout western Japan (Kansai), kappazuri-e were often printed quickly and in small and cheap editions on thin paper, with fugitive pigments (generally more transparent than those used in nishiki-e — "brocade prints" or full-color prints, 浮世絵) that were brushed through stencils after woodblocks were used to stake out the keyblock lines. It was only in Kyoto that kappazuri-e maintained fairly high standards and enjoyed a measure of respect up to the midpoint of the nineteenth century.
The persistent support accorded such a quaint, antiquated technology, as compared with the predominant nishiki method, seems to have been due not only to economics, but also, ironically, to the very primitiveness of the stencil print's appearance. Japanese, in general, value evidence of the artisanal process in their crafts, and kappazuri-e reveal how they are made even more frankly than do nishiki-e. On top of that, Kyoto-ites are known for championing the rustic, imperfect aesthetic of the tea ceremony, and may have actually preferred the quieter, subtler-toned look of stencils to the relatively slick and flamboyant aspect of nishiki-e.
Sadly, almost all stencil prints have perished over time, due to the delicacy of the paper, their generally small size, and the relatively low esteem in which they have been held when compared with nishiki-e (though they, too, were too often neglected). The vast majority of stencil-print designs are now very difficult to find, regardless of condition.
Kinmon gosan no kiri (The Golden Gate and Paulownia Crest: 金門五三桐), written by Namiki Gohei I, premiered in 1788 as a five-act drama (it was renamed Sanmon gosan no kiri for its premiere in Edo in 1800). (The first staging of Ishikawa Goemon's exploits occurred in the 1680s.) It recounts the tale of Ishikawa Goemon, a notorious rônin (a "wave man" or "floating man," i.e., masterless samurai: 浪人) during the reign of the shôgun Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598). At age sixteen, while attempting to steal from his master, Goemon murdered three men and went underground. He lived as a bandit for two decades until, in 1594, he was captured during a failed attempt to kill Hideyoshi. Goemon met a grisly end by being boiled in oil.
The theatrical Goemon was transformed into a hero — fearless, elusive, and endowed with magical powers. He is identified as a son of Sô Sokei (whose alias was Ôinosuke), a Chinese general, who as a child was brought up by the Japanese warlord Takechi Mitsuhide. While on the run, Goemon takes refuge atop the main gate of the Nanzen Temple in Kyoto. There, he admires the beautiful hanging cherry blossoms, when a hawk suddenly flies up to him, holding a torn kimono sleeve in its beak with an inscription — written in blood — revealing that his murdered father was involved in a plot to overthrow Mashiba Hisayoshi (a pseudonym for the historical Hideyoshi) in the name of the Chinese emperor. Upon learning this, Goemon vows to take revenge against Hisayoshi.
Later in the tale we encounter Sôemon, a wealthy merchant whose adopted daughter Oritsu is now married to Goemon. Sôemon was once a samurai named Kaida Shingo, a retainer of Takechi Mitsuhide (Goemon's step-father) who has been killed by Hisayoshi. In preparing to avenge Takechi's death, Sôemon has excavated a tunnel from under his house to Hisayoshi's palace at Momoyama. Hayakawa Takakage, Hisayoshi's regent, suspects that Sôemon is actually Kaida Shingo. The regent and his soldiers attack Sôemon, inflicting a mortal wound. As he lay dying, Sôemon tells Oritsu his real name, imploring her to avenge Takechi's death, and he asks the same of Goemon. He then points her to the tunnel as an escape route. Goemon finds Takakage ready to attack him — at which point he quickly practices magic by hiding Sôemon's body in a wicker basket and disappearing with it — only to emerge up through an opening in the stage's hanamichi ("flower path" or runway: 花道), as if from a well in the palace grounds, before soaring high above the heads of the audience, bursting out of the basket and flying away with it, the body of Sôemon still inside. (The theatrical trick technique for flying above the audience is called chûnori ("middle riding: 中乗り), "flying" with the aid of a wire harnessed to a metal fitting in the actor's costume.)
In the final act, Goemon is surrounded in the palace garden by Hisayoshi, members of his family, and his retainers. Even so, Hisayoshi tells Goemon that he respects him and so, instead of killing Goemon, he will send him home to China to join the Ming Prince Junnan whom, by this time, Goemon's wife Oritsu has been looking after. Goemon, in return, promises to return to Hisayoshi a precious incense-burner he has stolen. The play concludes as Goemon and Hisayoshi go their separate ways while vowing to meet again in battle.
References: GPS: "The Gion Parade Stencil Prints." Ujlaki, Peter. In: Andon, no. 63, 1999, pp. 5-16. GNP: "Gion Nerimono Prints Revisited: The List." Ujlaki, Peter and Nakade, Akifumi. In: Andon, no. 75, 2003, pp. 5-48