Shûmei ("succeed to a name": 襲名) is a ritualized name-taking or accession ceremony. In kabuki, usually three or more times in a career, an actor succeeds to a new geimei (acting name: 芸名) while giving up his previous stage name, which in turn may be passed on to another actor at the same ceremony, or later. Shûmei are not merely switches in stage names, but encompass the adoption of roles and performances of specific plays closely associated with one or more predecessors in the same acting lineage. Shûmei were followed, on the same program, by performances that management and fans considered specialites of the lineage. So it was a momentous occasion for the actor, his sponsors, and his fans. A newly annointed actor had to live up to expectations and be worthy of the honor bestowned upon him. One way to commemorate shûmei was to commission a privately printed deluxe woodblock print with poems (surimono), as is the case here with Shibakuni's design.
This is a shûmei surimono for a young boy named Matsutarô (万津太郎) changing to (aratame: 改) or becoming the actor Nakamura Kagaya (中村加賀弥). He was the younger brother of the renowned Nakamura Matsue III (三代目中村松江), himself a pupil of the superstar Nakamura Shikan II (二代目中村芝翫), later Utaemon IV. Remarkably, this surimono appears to be the only record of Kagaya, who was probably about 5 to 8 years old at the time of publication — he is referred to as "Nakamura jidô" (Little-kid Nakamura). Possibly he died young or abandoned the stage not long after his shûmei. We should note here that the name Kagaya, with a different third character (加賀屋), was the"house name" or yagô of the actor Nakamura Utaemon III (1778-1838) and also of his protege Nakamura Tamashichi (1836-1860) and should not be confused with the Kagaya (加賀弥) commemorated in this surimono.
There are poems by the aforementioned Osaka actors Matsue III and Shikan II, along with the equally celebrated Tojaku (the Edo-based actor Iwai Hanshirô V: 五代目岩井半四郎), who was visiting Osaka in 1821-22. Tojaku (杜者) was Hanshirô's haigô (literary name: 俳号). Thus the young actor is being welcomed to the kabuki stage by some of the finest actors of the period.
The headnote identifies the occasion, Matsutarô changing to Nakamura Kagaya. (Matsutarô aratame Nakamura Kagaya)
The first poem is by Kagaya: In the early evening the color red is good — irises. (Yoinakani akainoga yoshi kakitsubata)
The second poem may be read as The younger brother trains for the stage and has taken a new name. Such a promotion is pretentious, but please support him for a long time. (Imada osamaki ototoga okagamashikumo na o aratamete shugyô suenagaku gohiiki o negai matsuran koto o gohirô môsu mo osorenagara)
The third verse (by Matsue III) is brief: I had two iris stalks. (Kakitsubata nihon soroete moraikeri)
The fourth poem states, He is family. We hand over to him the name 'Kagaya'. Please support him. (Miuchi narumono nishi areba Kagaya to ieru na o yuzuri yukusue no gohiiki o nogau nomi)
Shikan II wrote the fifth poem: As with a nightingale, the voice is all important. Will this voice be good or not? (Hototogisu koewa yokaroga warukaroga)
Finally, the sixth poem: Let's celebrate the great potential of the kid Nakamura— a bud of the peony flower.* (Nakamura uji jidô no kaimei o shukushite sakariniwa [...] to botan no tsubomi kana)
At the lower right is the artist's signature (Shibakuni ga: 芝國画) and at the lower left a name reading Zakoba (ざこば), who was a printer active circa 1822-25.** See also YSK03 for an example of Zakoba's printer seal. Below his name there are three seals, the first reading hii (贔), an abbreviation of hiiki (patron or fan of an actor or kabuki: 贔屓). The other seals read Ha (ハ) and Ido (井洞). So this surimono appears to be sponsored by a number of patrons or fans of Kagaya or members of a kabuki fan club.
Kagaya, who is holding an ôgi (folding fan: 扇) and a freshly plucked water iris (the kakitsubata 杜若 mentioned in two of the poems), is walking along a yatsuhashi ("eight-fold bridge" or bridge of eight planks: 八橋), a type of low bridge built over a shallow pond or marsh consisting of wooden planks without rails layed out in a zig-zag pattern. Yatsuhashi were often built over iris marshes, as we see here in Shibakuni's surimono, recalling the classic Ise monogatari (Tales of Ise: 伊勢物語) in which the main character and his companions stop to rest at a famous iris marsh traversed by an eight-plank bridge.
This surimono comes with a very rare, printed portion of the original envelope (see detail image to the right of the surimono illustration above).
* We thank Kitagawa Hiroko for her analysis of this surimono.
References: **TWOP, p. 313;