Utagawa Sadahide, Sugawaras Secret: Mt. Tempai

Utagawa Sadahide, 1807-1873

Sugawara's Secret: Mt. Tempai
(Sugawara denju: Tempaizan no ba)

signed Sadahide ga, publisher's seal Hon, Edo, Sen'ichi (Izumiya Ichibei of Kansendo), censor's seal Kiwame, ca. 1830-1840

oban yoko-e 9 3/4 by 14 1/8 in., 24.7 by 35.9 cm

This composition depicts Tenpaizan (Mt. Tempei), Act IV Scene I of the play Sugawara denju tenarai kagami (Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy) by playwright Namiki Sosuke (1695-1751), a prominent kabuki and bunraku (puppet theater) writer. Based on the life of the renowned scholar Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), the scene recounts Sugawara on Kyushu island ascending Mt. Tempei to become the God of Thunder after his former retainer, Umeomaru, and others come to assassinate him. He came to the island following a dream he had the previous night, in which his favorite plum tree had moved to the garden of the island's temple. When the assassins arrive, Sugawara decapitates one with a single branch of the tree and begins spitting incendiary plum petals from his mouth.

Reference:
Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (art.famsf.org), accession no. 1964.141.49

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