Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan (Tôkaidô ghost story at Yotsuya: 東海道四谷怪談) was written in 1825, a kabuki masterpiece by the playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV. The main theme in this most popular of all kabuki ghost plays involves Tamiya Iemon, the streetwalker Oiwa's husband and a down-on-his-luck rônin reduced to making oil-paper umbrellas. Iemon despairs over his ill fortune, made worse by Oiwa, who is struggling in her postpartum convalescence and nursing a newborn child. He finds temptation in a neighbor's young daughter named Oume, and is persuaded by her grandfather to give Oiwa a "medicinal potion" — actually a poison — meant to disfigure her so that Iemon will divorce her. Oiwa drinks the potion and her face takes on a monstrous countenance. Soon after, she dies in an accident brought on by jealousy and rage. Her ghost relentlessly haunts Iemon, tracking him down in a hermitage at Hebiyama (Snake Mountain: 蛇山) where he is taking refuge. He is finally slain by Satô Yomoshichi and the sister of a servant he has murdered. Yomoshichi is a rônin (a "wave man" or " floating man," i.e., masterless samurai: 浪人) who was once a vassal of the lord Enya Hangan, a samurai who is forced to commit seppuku in the great katakiuchi-mono (revenge-killing play: 敵討物 or adauchi-mono: 仇打ち物) titled Kanadehon chûshingura (Copybook of the Treasury of Loyal Retainers: 假名手本忠臣蔵), from which Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan was adapted. Yomoshichi, who is bethrothed to Oiwa's sister, Osode, a part-time pleasure woman, has joined the rônin the vendetta against Kô no Moronao, the nemesis of their deceased master Hangan. In another episode, Yomoshichi rescues Okuda Shôsaburô, the son of another rônin in the vendetta.
Enjaku has depicted one of kabuki's most emotional scenes. The spirit of Oiwa (note the kitsunebi 狐火 or spirit fire at the top right), dressed in funereal robes of gray and blue, holds her newborn child while poised against a black background. Her face, disfigured by the potion given to her by Iemon, is sadly on view here.
In this instance, the blue color on the forehead, mouth, and hand signify a ghost. This is an early impression, with strong woodgrain in the lower gray area.
Enjaku's (猿雀 active 1856-66) prints survive in very small numbers (some are known in only a single impression) and are difficult to obtain. Although nothing is known about his biography, he is arguably the most important transitional artist entering the last phase of printmaking in Osaka. He specialized in deluxe editions of ôkubi-e (large-head pictures: 大首絵) in chûban format.
Very few impressions of this ghost design are known. See John Fiorillo and Hendrick Lühl, "Enjaku," Andon special monograph, 2006, no. 5.02, p. 108.