Meiboku sendai hagi (Sandalwood and bush clover of Sendai: 伽羅先代萩) dramatized the intriques over succession within the Date clan of Sendai during the third quarter of the seventeenth century. It was performed in an alternate sekai ("world" or theatrical setting: 世界), set back in time during the Onin civil war under the Ashikaga shogunate of the fifteenth century (Ashikaga thus becomes a theatrical substitute for the Date clan name). It is a classic play, so popular that during the Edo period it had at least one performance nearly every year since its premiere in 1777. The fictionalized central story involved Lord Ashikaga Yorikane's forays into the pleasure quarter and his murder of the courtesan Takao (高尾). This episode is an amplification of an actual incident in which the twenty-one-year-old clan leader Date Tsunamune became the lover of the Yoshiwara courtesan Takao, causing a scandal that led to his downfall. Another story line involves Nikki Danjô (Yorikane's evil nephew), the orchestrator of a conspiracy to overthrow Yorikane. The intrigue failed, however, and Nikki was slain.
Ashiyuki has portrayed the murder of the courtesan Takao from Act I. Yorikane is entertaining his lover Takao on the "Takaomaru," a boat that he has named in her honor. (The hanging paper lanterns bear the characters for her name, 高尾.) He plans to ransom Takao from the pleasure quarter by buying out her contract and setting up house with her, which would scandalize the Ashikaga clan. While he is napping on the boat, a loyal Ashikaga servant persuades Takao to end her affair with Yoritane for his family's sake. When Yorikane reappears, she lies and tells him that she has another lover and that her affair with him has been all pretense. Enraged and humiliated, he stabs and kills her.
This dramatic diptych is an early example of Ashiyuki's style (active c. 1813-33) before his nigao-e (likeness pictures: 似顔絵) or renderings of physiognomy became more acerbic.
This is very rare design with excellent retention of colors, especially for a print of this time period!
References: IKBYS-I, no. 202 (poor condition)