The historical Minamoto no Yorimasa (1104-1180) served eight different sovereigns in his long career, holding various posts such as hyôgo no kami (head of the arsenal). He was also a prominent poet whose works appeared in various anthologies. In 1179 he entered the Buddhist priesthood and took the name Gen Sanmi Nyûdô. Although he had allied himself with the Taria clan against the Minamoto during the Hôgen no ran (Hôgen civil war; 1156-59) and the Heiji no ran (Heiji civil war; 1160), he switched allegiance and led the Minamoto forces against the Taira in 1180. Suffering defeat at Uji, he committed suicide in the Byôdô Temple.
The legendary Yorimasa is forever associated with slaying the mythical Nue in 1153 ― as recorded in the Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike; first quarter 13th century). Yorimasa, who was a formidable archer, spied on the emperor's palace roof a strange winged-creature with an ape's head, tiger's claws, badger's (tanuki) back, and snake-head tail. As the emperor was suffering from a life-threatening illness, Yorimasa suspected that the Nue was the cause. A single arrow took down the beast, whereupon Yorimasa's retainer (Ino Hayata Tadazumi) delivered the coup de grace with his sword.
This performance of Yorimasa nue monogatari ("The Tale of Yorimasa and the Nue": 頼政鵺物語) by Kitsusaburô II (formerly Tokusaburô II; later Rikan II; 1788 - 6/1837) was part of a first-year memorial program for his illustrious predecessor, Arashi Kitsusaburô I (Rikan I; 1769 - 9/1821). It also featured a shûmei (襲名) or accession ceremony ― here the passing on of an acting name to a successor ― through which Tokusaburô II became Kitsusaburô II. Kitsusaburô I's final performance before his fatal illness was as Yorimasa in 8/1821; thus the role held the utmost symbolic significance for the Arashi lineage, their fans, and the Kamigata theatrical world. There would have been enormous pressure on Kitsusaburô II to perform at a level worthy of a homage to his predecessor.
The deferential poem, composed by the actor, reads Murasaki tô fumei yu na mo ôsore nama-iwashi (Due to my inexperience, I must accept the name Uncooked Iwashi [Sardine] instead of Murasaki [Purple]: むらさきといふ名もおそれ生鰯). He signed it as Haimyô kotobuki tsuru [= Jukaku] aratame Rikan (A good-luck crane ― changing my poetry name to Rikan: 俳名寿鶴改璃寛). This follows Kitsusaburô I's example, who had used "Rikan" as his haimyô. In the eleventh month of 1828, Kitsusaburô II would also take his haimyô "Rikan" for his geimei (stage name). The mon (crest) of the Arashi lineage of actors ― a tachibana (mandarin orange blossom: 橘) ― is visible on Kitsusaburô's robe and on the lacquered balustrade just below his makeup brushes.
This is a rarely encountered design.
References: HKS, no. 79; WAS I-4, no. 157; OP, no. 59