Hanayagura hitome senbon (A thousand fragrances in the flower tower: 花櫓詠吉野) was a variant of the more celebrated Yoshitsune senbon zakura (Yoshitsune & the thousand cherry trees: 義経千本桜), among the greatest of all kabuki plays. Written by Takeda Izumo II, Miyoshi Shoraku, and Namiki Senryû, it was first performed as a puppet play (Bunraku) at the Takemoto-za, Osaka in 1747. The saga involves various episodes from a historical tale recounting the Heike-Genji (Taira-Minamoto) clan warfare.
The real Tadanobu is an ally of Lady Shizuka Gozen, the concubine of the celebrated warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189) in flight from his half brother Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199), Japan's military leader. Yoshitsune is forced to prepare to leave Shizuka, whereupon he gives her a taiko (small hand-drum: 鼓 also 皷) as a keepsake. When she is attacked by a retainer of Yoritomo's, the fox-Tadanobu saves her. Yoshitsune observes this from a distance and gives the fox-impostor a suit of armor, thinking that he is entrusting Shizuka Gozen's safety to the real Tadanobu. But when she plays the drum, Tadanobu undergoes a metamorphosis and begins to dance, his movements animal-like, for the drum is made from the skin of his parent. Finally, all is revealed, and Yoshitsune gives Tadanobu the hand drum in appreciation of his loyalty. In one last act of dedication, the fox drives off six armed priests sent to assassinate Yoshitsune before returning to his animal world.
Tadanobu holds the hand drum made with the skin of his parent as Shizuka, gripping a sword, watches him intently.
This design is sometimes found as an uncut ôban sheet intended to be divided into a chûban diptych, as there are two signatures near the center of the composition (i.e., only one signature would be expected on a single ôban). In fact, block carvers would often cut two chûban designs into a single ôban block, whether or not the chûban designs formed a diptych. The ôban impressions of Hokuei's design are almost invariably found with vertical centerfolds, further supporting this conjecture, as the folds would would occur after mounting in a chûban-format album. Our example further supports the claim for two chûban sheets, as it has been cut and rejoined as a diptych.
Hokuei's print is another fine example of deluxe production in the Kamigata style. This diptych was formerly in the Haber collection and is the same impression illustrated in Schwaab (see OSP below). It has since been removed from its album backing; thus, the additional vertical centerfold and extra area of visible design.
References: IKB-I, 2-440; KNP-6, p. 299; KUR, p. 249; IBYKS-II, no. 353; OSP, no. 166;