The present play is a variation of Kaikei natsu no hachinoki (Potted trees and a man in summer: 男夏鉢の木), a drama based on a classical Nô theater tale and its subsequent kabuki adaptations. The better known kabuki variant is called Yayoi ni hiraku ando no funahashi (三月開 嬉心船橋), derived from the Nô play Hachinoki (The potted trees: 鉢木). The lord of Kamakura, Hôjô Tokiyori, while traveling in disguise as a priest, seeks shelter from deep snow and freezing temperatures at the house of Tsuneyo, the former lord of Sano, who is impoverished following the confiscation of his lands by duplicitous kinsmen. Tsuneyo sends the priest away, claiming he has no room, and suggests that the priest look for lodging in the next village. Tsuneyo calls the priest back, however, when his wife admonishes him, saying their wretched state is the consequence of their past sins and that more unkindness will bring ruin in their next life. When the night cold keeps him awake, Tsuneyo, much saddened, cuts his cherished bonsai ("tray planting" or miniature potted trees: 盆栽) of plum, cherry, and pine, setting them on fire to keep the priest warm. When Tokiyori asks why Tsuneyo does not stake his claim before the lord of Kamakura, Tsuneyo replies that he has heard his lord is away on a pilgrimage. He adds that he would gladly don his broken armor, take up his rusty spear, and mount his weakened horse to defend his lord from harm. In a later scene, Tokiyori sends orders for all the lords of the eastern provinces to gather at Kamakura. He then asks to see the most ill-equipped lord, whereupon Tsuneyo, poorly attired, walks toward Tokiyori, thinking he is about to be executed. As the splendidly dressed lords look upon Tsuneyo with derision, Tokiyori reveals that he was the priest whom Tsuneyo had sheltered, and that for keeping his word to fight for his lord, returns to Tsuneyo his lands in Sano, along with three more estates, to compensate for the three bonsai Tsuneyo had sacrificed.
In Yayoi ni hiraku ando no funahashi, the mistreated lord is named Sano no Genzaemon, and the priest/lord Saimyôji Nyûdô. Genzaemon is robbed of his lands by a wicked uncle. Other story lines are woven into the plot, but essentially Genzaemon looks to regain possession of his ancestral lands and win a Kamakura guarantee for his legitimate right to ownership.
This dynamic full-length portrait fills the pictorial space with the figure of Tokiyori, a graphic device much used by earlier Kamigata artists in their ôban prints.
This is the right sheet of a diptych, with the left sheet depicting Nakamura Tamasuke I (中村玉助) as Sano no Genzaemon (佐野の源左衛門).
This impression is from the celebrated Haber Collection, New York and is illustrated in Schwaab, Osaka Prints (see OSP below), where the author misidentifies the play as Hanayame sano no funabashi and places it in Edo(!!!) in 5/1849.
References: HSH, no. 26; OSP, no. 215