The title Hakkenden (Eight loyal dogs: 八犬傳) appears on all eight sheets, referring to the widely popular stories and theatrical productions about nine generations of a fictional clan, the Satomi. In particular, these tales recount the exploits of eight samurai who were the offspring of their mother Fusehime, who had given to a demonic dog that had brought her father the head of one of his enemies. (Their names are distinctive, each including the character for inu or "dog" 犬.) The brothers were scattered in different parts of Awa province, but were recognizable by their names, peony birthmarks (the mon or crest of the Satomi clan), and beads, each containing a kanji character for the respective eight Confucian virtues, as follows.
- Inukawa Sôsuke Yoshitô (犬川 荘助 義任): gi (義) - duty and obligation
- Inuyama Dôsetsu Tadatomo (犬山 道節 忠與): chû (忠) - loyalty
- Inuzuka Shino Moritaka (犬塚 信乃 戍孝): kô (孝) - filial piety or devotion
- Inuta Kobungo Yasuyori (犬田 小文吾 悌順): tei (悌) - brotherhood
- Inumura Daikaku (Kakutarô) Masanori (犬村 大角 礼儀): rei (礼) - courtesy
- Inukai Genpachi Nobumichi (犬飼 現八 信道): shin (信) - faith
- Inuzaka Keno Tanetomo (犬阪 毛野 胤智): chi (知) - wisdom
- Inue Shinbei Masashi (犬江 親兵衛 仁): jin (仁) - sympathy and benevolence
The likely near-contemporaneous inspiration for these kabuki performances was Kyokutei (Takizawa) Bakin's (1767-1848) epic yomihon novel (讀本 or 読本) Nansô Satomi Hakkenden ("Tale of the eight loyal dogs of the House of Satomi": 南總里見八犬傳), written and published serially (106 volumes!) over many years (1814-1842). Bakin lost his sight before he finished the tale and was forced to dictate the final volumes to his daughter-in-law Michi. The popular theaters, bunraku (puppet theater: 文楽) and kabuki, staged many adaptations of Bakin's tale, called as a class Satomi hakkenden mono ("Plays about the eight loyal dogs of Satomi": 里見八犬傳物). Osaka was the first city to dramatize the story in a play called Kinkazan yuki no akebono in 1834.
Note: It is very unusual to find this set complete, as here, and in such excellent overall condition.
References: WAS-VI, no. 6-172 to 6-179 (with a different first sheet); IKBYS-IV, no. 224 (5 sheets only); NKE, pp. 556-557