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狂言五十番 Kyōgen gojūban
Tsukioka Kōgyo and Tsukioka Gyokusei

Kyōgen gojūban, or Fifty Kyōgen Plays, is an elegant but amusing series of Japanese color woodblock prints by the artist Tsukioka Kōgyo (1869-1927) and his daughter, Tsukioka Gyokusei (1908-2009). The University of Pittsburgh Library System owns a rare, complete set of this series, published at Tokyo probably in 1927. The series comprises 50 prints inspired by the plays of traditional Japanese kyōgen theatre, the comedic counterpart to noh. The complete set of prints is digitally reproduced here along with a descriptive catalog and contextual essays.

The University of Pittsburgh Library System’s Kyōgen gojūban is bound as one volume in folding album-format in the manner of traditional Japanese orihon, or folding scrolls. It is protected by a linen wrap-around chitsu (chemise), probably made more recently than the album itself. This album of color woodblock prints is similar to but not exactly like the bound volumes of Kōgyo’s Nōgaku zue, also in Pitt’s special collections and accessible through this same website. Appropriate to the more down-to-earth nature of kyōgen plays, Kyōgen gojūban is not as luxuriously crafted as Nōgaku zue, although it displays the poise and refinement usually associated with Kōgyo’s art.

Kyōgen gojūban was purchased in 2010 by the University of Pittsburgh Library System from the antiquarian book dealer Dieter Schierenberg, B.V., Amsterdam. A stamp on the inside lining of the chitsu indicates that it was sold previously by Isseido Book Sellers of Tokyo.

  • Content
  • Physical Appearance
  • Artists
  • Publication Information
  • Other Collections

About the volume

The single volume of Kyōgen gojūban represents fifty different kyōgen plays, most of which seem to be depicted as performed on stage. Kyōgen plays are traditionally categorized by subject, and these categories are included in our descriptive metadata for each print: animal plays, blind man plays, dance plays, demon plays, farmer plays, friend/relative/aristocrat plays, god plays, master plays, merchant/craftsman plays, priest plays, servant plays, son-in-law plays, thief plays, warrior priest plays, woman plays. For a list of plays according to category see Don Kenny, The Kyōgen Book: An Anthology of Japanese Classical Comedies (Tokyo: The Japan Times, 1989). As Kenny explains, some plays can be associated with more than one category.

For an alphabetical index of kyōgen plays including information about available translations, see the website of Professor Michael Watson at Meiji Gakuin University.

Professor Watson’s website is relied on here as an accessible authority file for the titles of the plays and their Romanized spellings. For kyōgen plot summaries, see Don Kenny, A Guide to Kyōgen (Tokyo: Hinoki Shoten, 1990).


The prints of Kyōgen gojūban are multi-color, multi-block woodblock prints on heavy wove paper. Without the frontispiece (printed on laid paper, probably at an earlier date) possibly added by the binder, the series comprises a total of 51 prints including the table of contents. The images are full-page, horizontal in orientation, each measuring about 256 x 379 mm. Pigments are water-based, sometimes embellished with gold and silver mica highlights. The background is often shaded by a thin wash, and the printing technique imitates hand-painted water color, notably so in the masterful prints signed by Kōgyo. This volume not only contributes to our understanding of Kōgyo’s mature style but also provides evidence of the method of collaboration between the artist and the woodblock printer. It demonstrates the ability of the printer to translate the individual style of each artist and distinguish the work of Kōgyo from that of his daughter, Gyokusei.


The woodblock prints of Kyōgen gojūban represent scenes from kyōgen plays: comedies customarily performed as part of a full program of noh. Unlike noh, however, kyōgen does not comprise a poetic literary tradition, but is handed down orally within families of actors. Thus the texts included in prints of Kyōgen gojūban are limited to the title of the play, the signature of the artist, the artist's seal, and the publishers stamp. All of these texts are in Japanese in several lettering sizes, styles, and inks. The publisher did not include a running title heading, the absence of which creates an obstacle to the identification of individual prints if separated from the set. He also refrained from dating the prints, either individually or as a set. Because the prints are mounted on a separate paper support, no text has been lost as a result of binding the book.


The whole volume is fine, complete, all original, and well-preserved, although the paper support backing the prints is discolored slightly brown. The outer linen chitsu is probably not original but is in excellent shape that suggests a recent history of attentive care. The original silk brocade binding shows wear and discoloration along the edges; at the corners the worn fabric reveals the board underneath. The sturdy construction of the album, however, shows no signs of deterioration. Most of the prints are perfectly preserved, although a few reveal slight offset discoloration from contact with the print on the opposite leaf.


The single volume of Kyōgen gojūban is covered in original green silk brocade over lightweight boards including a front and back cover, each cover measuring 268 x 398 mm. The front cover is distinguished by an original Kōgyo print on laid kōzo paper with the title of the series in large script: 狂言五十番 (Kyōgen gojūban). The print depicts a still-life of an “Oto” mask with a rattle of suzu bells and is identified by two seals, “Kō” and “gyo” on the left and information about the publisher on the right:

Tōkyō Ryōgoku 東京両國 Daikokuya Hakkō 大黒屋發行.

The inside covers are lined with plain paper pastedowns, lacking the flecks of gold that embellish the pastedowns of Nōgaku zue; the edges of the leaves are also plain (without gilding). Although bound in the accordion style known as orihon, the construction of Kyōgen gojūban differs from that of Nōgaku zue, and a comparison of the volumes suggests custom binding by different craftsmen (see Construction). The volume is wrapped in a chitsu, 273 x 397 mm (closed), 273 x 1,282 mm (opened), of brown linen over light weight boards lined with modern wove paper. The chitsu opens from the top and closes with ivory fasteners in the traditional manner. The lining of the chitsu includes a dealer’s stamp inside the front cover (upper right corner) with text in Roman capitals: ISSEIDO, followed by text in kanji: 一誠堂(Isseido), 東京(Tokyo), and 神田(Kanda). This refers to Isseido Book Sellers, still in business and online.


The paper used for each print is of large oban format (oban = full sheet 243 x 372 mm), slightly larger than standard size; a single sheet measures about 256 x 379 mm. Each print is mounted on a second layer of paper that forms the support for the folding album; each folio thus measures 268 x 393 mm, larger than the print it supports. The orientation is horizontal, and the double-page opening measures 268 x 785 mm. The cover opens in reverse compared to European codices and the reader moves through the contents right to left.

The leaves include no foliation but for cataloging purposes are foliated (numbered by leaves): 4A = Folio 4, print to the left of the center fold (western verso), and turning the leaf, 4B = Folio 4, print to the right of the center fold (western recto). Any given print in the volume can be located according to this system. Thus the foliation of a double opening, for example, includes 3B on the right and 4A on the left, 4B on the right and 5A on the left, and so on. The volume includes 28 folios, 14 on the front side and 14 on the back side. The reader continues past the closing of the back cover: when the back cover is face-up, the reader opens it as if it were a second front cover, and proceeds through the second half of the book, moving right to left.


Like that of Nōgaku zue, the orihon construction of Kyōgen gojūban resembles a zig-zag, simulating a traditional folding scroll. But instead of gluing the prints themselves together to form the book, the binder of Kyōgen gojūban mounted the prints on a separate support. The resulting paper “scroll” formed is thus consists of two long strips of heavy paper, folded accordion style, to which the prints are affixed. The resulting album is bulkier in construction than Nōgaku zue but allows each print full display. The construction method of Kyōgen gojūban thus avoids the obfuscation of the marginal publication information to half of the prints caused by the overlapping seams of Nōgaku zue. The construction and physical evidence of Kyōgen gojūban suggests that the prints were sold unbound, then taken by the collector to be custom bound by a book binder, different from the binder of Nōgaku zue.

About the Artists

Tsukioka Kōgyo (1869-1927) was born Hanyū Bennosuke in Tokyo and used the surname Sakamaki (his mother’s maiden name) until 1911 when he took the name of his step-father, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. For a thorough discussion of the artist’s life see on this website the biographical essay by Professor Richard J. Smethurst. Although the artist used several names throughout his career, Tsukioka Kōgyo is the name internationally recognized and used for the authorized heading of the artist’s authority record at the Library of Congress.

“Kōgyo” is the signature found on most of his prints: 耕漁. In Kyōgen gojūban his signature is found on the first sixteen prints of the set, and it seems likely that Kōgyo died before this series of prints was completed. The print used by the binder for the frontispiece on the front cover is not signed but includes two seals bearing his name. Kōgyo used a variety of seals to complement his signature. These sometimes playfully reflect the content of the print, as in “Tako” (PITT KG 03A), where the seal is in the shape of an octopus. The seals used in Kyōgen gojūban and Nōgaku zue have been identified and expertly cataloged by Sachie Kobayashi of the University of Pittsburgh Library System’s East Asian Library.

Tsukioka Gyokusei (1908-1994), Kōgyo’s daughter, apparently finished Kyōgen gojūban after her father had completed the first sixteen prints. Although she was born “Fumiko,” she signed the remaining 34 prints plus the table of contents, “Kōbun:” 江文. On later works she signed the name “Gyokusei,” including prints published c. 1938 by Watanabe Shōzaburō. There is no authority record for this artist at the Library of Congress, but two of her paintings are included in the exhibition catalog published by the Mizuta Museum of Art, Tsukioka Kōgyo, A Modern Painter of Noh (Chiba-ken, Japan: Josai International University, 2005), p. 7 (no. 6), p. 9 (no. 9); Gyokusei is also mentioned in Helen Merritt and Nanako Yamada, Guide to Modern Japanese Prints: 1900-1975 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995), p. 158, 310-311.

See Biography page for more information.


Although the scholarship concerning Kōgyo has been sparse, Robert Schaap and J. Thomas Rimer have recently published The Beauty of Silence: Japanese Nō and Nature Prints by Tsukioka Kōgyo 1869-1927 (Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2010). A beautifully designed publication with significant scholarship and dozens of color illustrations, it represents the only printed monograph in English about the artist and a welcome addition to the field of Kōgyo studies. In terms of Kōgyo’s artistic production, the Schaap-Rimer volume includes a catalog with only a few prints from Kyōgen gojūban but richly describes the Kōgyo’s print series Nōgaku hyakuban, a complete set of which is also posted online at the website of the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College.

The Scripps prints are linked to related prints from the Nōgaku zue series at the University of Pittsburgh Library System. The Nōgaku zue series includes some prints about kyōgen plays, and prints of the same title in Kyōgen gojūban are linked to these.

The most significant study of Kōgyo’s Nōgaku zue is an exhibition catalog produced by the Mizuta Museum of Art, Tsukioka Kōgyo, A Modern Painter of Noh (Chiba-ken, Japan: Josai International University, 2005). This work also includes some paintings and information about Kōgyo’s daughter Gyokusei, who continued to work on noh theatre subjects after her father’s death.


Daikokuya, Tokyo was founded in the eighteenth century by Matsuki Heikichi, member of a publishing family formerly of the samurai class. See Charlotte Rappard-Boon, The Age of Yoshitoshi, Catalogue of the Collection of Japanese Prints Part V (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 1990), 6-10; Robert Schaap and J. Thomas Rimer, The Beauty of Silence: Japanese Nō & Nature Prints by Tsukioka Kōgyo 1869-1927 (Leiden: Hotei, 2010), p. 36-37. By the time of the publication of Kyōgen gojūban, Masuki Heikichi V was in charge of the family business. The publisher’s information is provided in a fan-shaped stamp in the lower left or right lateral margin of each print. The text of this stamp reads: Tōkyō Ryōgoku Daikokuya sei: 東 京 両 國 大 黒 屋 製. There is no text or printer’s colophon at the end of the volume, but the illustrated table of contents signed by Gyokusei indicates that the publisher intended the prints to comprise a finite series.

A complete set of Kyōgen gojūban prints at the Art Institute of Chicago is not bound but contained in an original silk-covered folio that also preserves some of the envelopes in which the publisher issued the prints in groups of three. (We thank Janice Katz, Curator of Japanese Art at AIC for sharing this information.) Preserved envelopes document that Daikokuya issued the prints for Nōgaku hyakuban in a similar manner. Our research has not found any original envelopes for Nōgaku zue prints, but Amy Reigle Newland has discovered nineteenth-century advertisements from the newspaper Yomiuri shinbun that announced prints from Nōgaku zue issued in groups of three (see Rimer-Schapp, mentioned above, pp. 36-38). The issue dates of the same prints in the Mizuta Museum catalog confirm Newland’s research.


Neither the individual prints, nor the table of contents, nor the issue envelopes preserved from Kyōgen gojūban are dated. The date [Showa 02/1927] has been supplied but can be safely presumed, not only because Kōgyo did not complete the series, but also because the style of the prints with his signature demonstrates the painterly and expressive technique associated with his late works.

Other Collections

We know of only two other complete sets of Kyōgen gojūban: one is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago and accessible online.

The other complete set belongs to the Yenching Library at Harvard University. It has not been digitized but is recorded in the HOLLIS online library catalog.

The set at Harvard is bound as one volume, although we have not yet studied it. The set at the Art Institute Chicago is unbound but preserved in an original silk-covered folio that includes some of the publisher’s envelopes (see “Publisher” in the "Publication Information" tab). We thank Kuniko McVey of the Yenching and Janice Katz of AIC for their generous assistance. We would greatly appreciate information about additional sets of Kyōgen gojūban in collections known to you.

After her father’s death Tsukioka Gyokusei made her own paintings and prints based on noh theatre subjects. Several of these can be viewed in the online archive of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art also posts online some prints by Tsukioka Gyokusei.

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Prints from Kyōgen gojūban

Rokujizō 六地蔵

Rokujizō 六地蔵 Print

Description of Content
Six jizō statues
(thief play)

Kanaoka 金岡

Kanaoka 金岡 Print

Description of Content
Love-crazed painter
(woman play)

Saru muko 猿聟

Saru muko 猿聟 Print

Description of Content
Monkey son-in-law
(son-in-law play)

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