Flowers of Edo: Series of Chivalrous Men / Kabuki Actor Bando Hikosaburo
The phrase "flowers of edo" (edo no hana) was an ironic and popular saying to describe the terrible fires that plagued Edo (Tokyo). It became common to refer to both ukiyo-e artists and kabuki actors as the "Flowers of Edo".
Kunichika shows the actor dressed as an Otokodate. The Otokodate was a kind of chivalrous gang member; a cross between the dandy of nineteenth century Europe and a Robin Hood figure… an outlaw with a heart. They were hugely popular, although feared, members of Edo society and formed a great deal of the revered and essential town fire brigades.
Their popularity led to these characters being portrayed in kabuki plays and emulated by actors and other bohemians. This print is from a series of ten prints that all show the leading actors of the time dressed in this outlaw chic of neckerchief, shaved pate, and muscly tattoos. In this print we can see the actor wearing a tattooed shirt under his kimono - since actors didn't have real tattoos this was part of his costume for the role. I love the strong blue crosshatch pattern in the background, and the folds of his kimono impart additional energy to the scene.