Kabuki Actor Ōtani Oniji III as Yakko Edobei in the Play The Colored Reins of a Loving Wife (Koi nyōbō somewake tazuna)

Artist: Tōshūsai Sharaku (Japanese, active 1794–95)

Period: Edo period (1615–1868)

Date: 6th month, 1794

Culture: Japan

Medium: Polychrome woodblock print; ink, color, white mica on paper

Dimensions: 15 x 9 7/8 in. (38.1 x 25.1 cm)

Classification: Prints

Credit Line: Henry L. Phillips Collection, Bequest of Henry L. Phillips, 1939

Accession Number: JP2822


The actor Otani Oniji II is captured here in the role of Yakko Edobe. A yakko is a manservant often used by samurai to perform violent deeds. Otani Oniji's leering face, shown in three-quarter view, bristling hair, and groping outstretched hands capture the ruthless nature of this wicked henchman. Sharaku was renowned for creating visually bold prints that gave rare revealing glimpses into the world of kabuki. He was not only able to capture the essential qualities of kabuki characters, but his prints also reveal, often with unflattering realism, the personalities of the actors who were famous for performing them. Because kabuki plays have relatively simple plots, the acting style of the performer is central to the performance. As a result, successful kabuki actors enjoyed great celebrity status. Unlike earlier masters, Sharaku did not idealize his subjects or attempt to portray them realistically. Rather, he exaggerated facial features and strove for psychological realism.