A Beauty and a Hero (2) 

from the Righteous Samurai Collection, 1920

by Shima Seien

IHL Cat. #2589


The eleventh print appearing in Volume 3 of Gishi taikan, edited by Fukumoto Nichinan. 

The female artist, Shima Seien, presents us with ishi Kuranosuke's mistress Okaru covering her koto, after entertaining him. Fukumoto in his commentary tells us that "ishi Kuranosuke took a beautiful woman named Okaru as his concubine" and that "she was the daughter of Nimonji-ya Jirōzaemon who lived in the Nijō Teramachi area [of Kyoto]."[1]

The story about Kuranosuke and his mistress became embellished over the years, with Okaru becoming a major character in the play Kanadehon chushingura. Historians Federico Marcon and Henry D. Smith II, tell us, "Although it remains unclear whether her name was really 'Okaru' (or 'Karu'), it seems to be established historical fact that Kuranosuke had a mistress in his final months in Kyoto, before leaving for Edo in the tenth month of 1702. The most revealing evidence is to be found in a letter that he wrote to a priest in Kyoto on 1702.11.25, just twenty days before the attack on Kira, in which he sought assistance in providing for the impending "Nijō birth" (Nijō shussan), an apparent reference to Okaru's family residence at Nijō Teramachi and to her pregnancy by Ōishi. Remarkably, however, we have been unable to locate mention of Okaru in any of the early chronicles of the Akō incident, a circumstance that suggests that her existence was known to only a few people."[2] 

[1] In the commentary, Fukumoto uses the characters 阿輕 for Okaru's name, supplementing it with おかる to be clear on the pronunciation "Okaru". The translation in quotations is my own.

[2] "A Chūshingura Palimpsest: Young Motoori Norinaga Hears the Story of the Akō Rōnin from a Buddhist Priest", Federico Marcon and Henry D. Smith, II appearing in Monumenta Nipponica, Winter, 2003, Vol. 58, No. 4 (Winter, 2003), Sophia University, pp. 439-465; Stable URL: http://www.jstor.com/stable/25066252, p. 458-459.

Print Details

artist signature and seal 

click on image to enlarge

Tribute Preceding Print by

Nichinan Fukumoto

福本日南(1857-1921), historian and journalist

from Volume 3 of Gishi Taikan

image source: The Early Japanese Book Portal Database, Art Research Center AkoRH-R0419-3

click on image to enlarge

Print Commentary from Volume 3 of Gishi Taikan

美人と烈士 其二

image source: The Early Japanese Book Portal

Database, Art Research Center AkoRH-R0419-3

Artist Profile

Shima Seien 島成園 (1892-1970)

Born in Sakai City, Osaka with the given name Narue, she was the daughter of the painter Shima Eikichi and studied Japanese style painting with Kitano Tsunetomi 北野恒富 (1880-1947).  She was primarily a painter of bijin in a synthesized Western-Japanese manner. Withdrew from painters' circles while living in various Japanese cities to which her husband was transferred as a bank employee, but returned to Osaka after World War II and resumed painting, having an exhibition at Osaka Daimaru. She exhibited in both the government sponsored Bunten (starting at the age of 21) and, later, with Teiten and continued working until the year of her death. 

She also designed a small number of woodblock prints, contributing to the c. 1924 series New Ukiyo-e Beauties (Shin ukiyo-e bijin awase). 

For a detailed biography of the artist go to Shima Seien 島成園 (1892-1970)