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 (The temple gate and the paulownia crest) for its premiere in Edo in 1800). It recounts the exploits of Ishikawa Goemon, a notorious masterless samurai (rônin) during the reign of the shôgun Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598). In the drama, Goemon attempts to take revenge against Mashiba Hisayoshi (a theatrical pseudonym for the historical Hideyoshi), the enemy of his adoptive and natural fathers. Mashiba Hisatsugu, the eldest son of Hideyoshi, acts cruelly against his younger brother and others as a pretense for uncovering a plot to conquer Japan by Ôinosuke (the alias of Sô Seki, Goemon's natural father), a retainer of the Chinese emperor.
Mashiba Hisatsugu grips the hilt of his long sword (katana) as he strikes a defiant pose. His robe is decorated with the paulownia (kiri) leaves, as well as gourds (hyôtan) that actually hang from the fabric (the historical Toyotomi used hyôtan as battle insignia). The gosan ("five, three" [of paulownia]) in the play title refers to the five flowers on the three stems above the kiri leaves, Hideyoshi's particular version of the kiri crest, for centuries symbolic of imperial and shogunal power.
The inscription for the actor's name reads Asao Yûjirô aratame Gakujûrô (Yûjirô changing to Gakujûrô), making this a commemorative design for the actor's promotion to a new name and rank. He composed one of the poems (signing with his literary name or haimyô, Enjaku), as follows: Kono yûbe / asagisakura to / ogorabaya (I will allow myself this evening the luxury of enjoying the asagi cherry), with asagi punning on his name Asao and suggesting that he is most pleased with his name-taking (shûmei).
The other poem is signed by Oguroan, possibly a fan of the actor. It reads Dare mo saku / Asao-zakura ni / hana ôshi (All is in bloom, but the Asao-cherry has many flowers), alluding to Asao's numerous talents.
This early impression has the seal of the celebrated block carver Kasuke (see image at right), reading Hokushû monjin hori Kasuke (the carver Kasuke, pupil of Hokushû: 北洲門人彫加ｽｹ), thus documenting a fascinating aspect of this block cutter's career — one wonders whether he ever produced his own print designs?
References: OSP, no. 41; PPO, no. 13; IKB-I, no. 2-378; KNP-6, p. 86; NKE, p. 551; SDK, no. 48