Selection for the Twelve Signs

(Mitate jūnishi no uchi, 見立十二支の内)

Publisher: Kakumoto-ya Kinjirō



The Buddhist zodiac consists of twelve animals–rat, bull (or ox), tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog and boar.  There is a story that only these twelve animals came when called by Buddha, and this is the order in which they came.  These animals, including the rat and serpent, have a better reputation in Buddhist countries than in the West.  In this series of prints, a large bust portrait of an actor in character is combined with a smaller full-length portrait of another actor from the same play.  Tiny images of the appropriate animal of the zodiac surround an irregularly shaped title cartouche in the right upper corner of ten of the twelve prints.  This series is listed as number 192 in Kuniyoshi by Basil William Robinson (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1961).  The prints are each about 14 by 10 inches (36 by 25 centimeters), a size known as ōban.


Sign: Rat ()

Foreground bust: Ichikawa Ebizō V as Nikki Danjō

Smaller figure: Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII as Arajishi Otokonosuke

Play: Date kurabe Okuni kabuki (伊達競阿国戯場)








Sign: Ox ()

Foreground bust: actor as Kume no Heiemon in the dress of incantation with candles on his head, a mirror breastplate and a hammer (nails and a straw doll, although usually part of incantation, are not shown)

Smaller figure: actor as Yoshida Matsuwaka Maru

Play: Koi (goro mo) Karigane zome (恋衣雁金染)


Sign: Tiger ()

Foreground bust: actor as Torafuji

Smaller figure: Actor as Torazō

Play: Kiichi Hōgen sanryaku no maki



Sign: Hare ()

Foreground bust: Bandō Shuka I as Kosan the bathhouse girl holding a letter

Smaller figure: Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII as Omatsuri Kingorō

Play: Chikai Musubi ukina no Tategaku (盟結艶立額)









Sign: Dragon ()

Foreground bust: actor Segawa Kikunojō V (who died in 1832) as Ohatsu

Smaller figure: actor Bandō Mitsugorō III (who died in 1831)

Play: Ohatsu Tokubei, a tale of doomed lovers



Sign: Snake ()

Foreground bust: Ichikawa Kodanji as Karaki Masaemon

Smaller figure: Kataoka Ichizō as Sawai Matagorō

Play: Sono umayagi Sagara no Kikigaki (Things heard along the Highway to Sagara)




Sign: Horse ()

Foreground bust: Bandō Shuka I as Yoshikado’s sister Takiyasha holding a naginata

Smaller figure: Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII as Yoshikado

Play: Azuma dairi hana mo Yoshikado



Sign: Goat ()

Foreground bust: Onoe Kikujirō II as courtesan Akoya

Smaller figure: Onoe Tamizō II as Iwanaga Saemon Munetsura by a brazier

Play: Dan no Ura kabuto Gunki




Sign: Monkey ()

Foreground bust: Iwai Hanshirō V as the nun Seigen

Smaller figure: Onoe Kikugorō III as Sarushima Sota

Play: Onna Seigen



Sign: Cock ()

Foreground bust: Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII as Mongaku Shōnin pulling a rope

Smaller figure: actor as the Buddhist deity Fudō Myō in front the Nachi Waterfall

Play: A number of plays were derived from the story of Mongaku Shōnin.  He is shown here seeing the Buddhist deity Fudō Myō-ō while reciting prayers under the icy waterfall of Nachi in penance for accidentally killing his lover, Kesa-gozen.


Sign: Dog ()

Foreground bust: actor Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII as Kamiya Iemon

Smaller figure: actor Ichikawa Hirogorō as Akiyama Chobei



Sign: Boar ()

Foreground bust: Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII as the artist Ukiyo Inosuke holding a brush

Smaller figure:

Play: Nobori goi taki no Shirahata

This is one of several series of prints Kuniyoshi designed consisting of bust portraits with irregularly shaped cartouches in the right upper corner.  In each of these series, the cartouche is bordered by small pictures.  The table below shows a typical cartouche from each of these series as well as the script within the cartouche that identifies the series.  The color of the cartouches is not a reliable guide to identifying the series, as it may vary with successive printings. 

English title: Mirror of the Loyal Courage of the Faithful Retainers

Japanese title: Chūshin giyū kagami

Description: Bust of an actor as one of the Forty-seven Rōnin with a landscape background

English title: Famous Views of Edo Selected for the Twelve Months

Japanese title: Edo meisho mitate jū-ni ka gwatsu no uchi

Description: Bust of actor with landscape in upper half of print above a stylized cloud

English title: Selection for the Twelve Signs

Japanese title: Mitate jūnishi no uchi

Description: Bust of an actor with a full-length figure of another actor in a landscape as a background

English title: Set of Views of Fuji from Edo in Iroha Order

Japanese title: Nanatsu iroha Tōto Fuji zukushi

Description: Actor’s bust with landscape showing Mount Fuji inserter in the left upper corner

English title: Celebrated Products of Mountains and Seas

Japanese title: Sankai medetai zue

Description: Bust of beautiful woman with insert of landscape showing provincial industry in left upper corner

NOTE: Various scripts were used in this series, but the two kanji shown at left are most consistent

English title: Thirty-six Fashionable Restaurants of the Eastern Capital

Japanese title: Tōto ryūkō san-jū-rokkwaiseki

Description: Bust of actor with restaurant in background

English title: Military Brilliance for the Eight Views

Japanese title: Yōbu hakkei

Description: Bust of a military hero in a landscape