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National Diet Library Newsletter

No. 209, December 2016

Sanbaso

Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Publisher: Ebisu-ya
Published in 19th century
Large-sized, nishiki-e (wood-block color print, 24.5 x 36.6cm), one sheet
Owned by the National Diet Library
*Available in the National Diet Library Digital Collections

This is a nishiki-e depicting the dance Sanbaso performed on the kabuki stage.

Sanbaso literally means "the third old man." In the noh play "Okina," Sanbaso is the third character—following Senzai and Okina — to appear on the scene and perform a dance to pray for a bountiful harvest.

The noh play "Okina" depicts a sacred rite that originated in ancient times. In kabuki, this play was simplified for performance on auspicious occasions such as New Year's Day or at the opening of a new theater. Although Sanbaso is the third part of "Okina," it eventually came to be performed independently and gained widespread popularity due to its humorous nature and essentially celebratory ambience.

In the picture, the actor on the left is playing the role of Sanbaso. One feature of Sanbaso's dance is its dynamic movement. The nishiki-e portrays the actor holding his leg high in the air and wearing a gold and black striped eboshi (men's headgear), which is shaped like the edge of a sword, as well as a brightly colored costume with a distinctive design of a crane flying on the neck and back. The actor seated on the right is Senzai, who wears a decorative eboshi on his head and beautifully designed attire that features pine, bamboo and plum. Since ancient times, the motifs on these costumes were believed to bring good fortune.

(Translated by Tomoaki Hyuga)

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