A photographic introduction to items from the collection

Esugoroku

Today, it seems to have almost disappeared because of the popularity of video games, but when I was still an elementary school child, esugoroku, which is a game played by rolling a dice and moving a piece forward according to the number indicated by the dice from the "starting point" to the "goal," always came together with children's magazines as a New Year's supplement, as I recall. In the Edo period, esugoroku, together with nishiki-e and kusazoshi, was one of the major commodities of merchants of popular publications. In the letter of Bakin dated July 1, 1832 (Tenpo 3), he says that because popular Kabuki actors passed away one after another in the year-end and New Year, their portraits (shini-e) became very popular, and kusazoshi and dochu-sugoroku, which usually sold well from the New Year's eve to the beginning of the year, did not sell at all. It shows that esugoroku was a game indispensable to the New Year holidays also in the Edo period.

Ochinohito-Shigenoi performed by Iwai Shijaku and Jinenjo-no-Sankichi performed by Iwai Kumesaburo III Sugoroku of the Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido drawn by Yoshifuji Utagawa

Photo 1: Ochinohito-Shigenoi performed by Iwai Shijaku and Jinenjo-no-Sankichi performed by Iwai Kumesaburo III (Museum Collection)

The material is taken from "Koinyobo-somewake-tazuna" performed at Kawarasaki-za in April 1842 (Tenpo 13). "Koinyobo-somewake-tazuna" is based on "Tanba-yosaku-matsuyo no Komurobushi" and has inherited the scene of playing the dochu-sugoroku game.

Photo 2: Sugoroku of the Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido drawn by Yoshifuji Utagawa (Museum Collection)

A majority of dochu-sugoroku games of the Tokaido are mawari-sugoroku with the starting point at Nihonbashi and the goal at Kyoto.

As for the history of esugoroku, it is said that jodo-sugoroku was created based on the world view of the ten spiritual realms in Buddhism in the Muromachi period and spread among common people in the Edo period, and dochu-sugoroku and shusse-sugoroku were eventually created. In "Tanba-yosaku-matsuyo no Komurobushi," which is joruri (Japanese-type puppet play), written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon and performed at the end of 1707 (Hoei 4) (according to "Complete Works of Chikamatsu" Vol. 5), there is a famous passage describing Sankichi, a mago, entertaining the princess of a feudal lord with dochu-sugoroku.

"Haishii dochu-sugoroku. Namu-shobutsu-bunshin written in six Chinese characters to the six-sided dice made of cherry wood......" This verse shows that jodo-sugoroku was the matrix from which other subject matters were derived.

New Year's Saiken-sugoroku from the late Edo period Odaimyo Shusse-sugoroku from the second half of the Edo period

Photo 3: New Year's Saiken-sugoroku from the late Edo period (Museum Collection)

Materials suitable for the game played in New Year are shown.

Photo 4: Odaimyo Shusse-sugoroku from the second half of the Edo period (Museum Collection)

The words "buying and selling are prohibited" are written outside the frame probably out of consideration to the Shogunate authorities, but actually, it would have been sold. The goal is "Gotairo" instead of "Shogun" probably out of the same consideration.

In the second half of the Edo period, the wood multicolor printing technique represented by nishiki-e was established, and esugoroku became increasingly gorgeous while popular ukiyoe artists took up their paint brush to produce esugoroku full of pictures with various themes in large quantities.

Dochu-sugoroku was created comparatively early because its feature as a game of moving a piece forward was suitable for the theme of the trip of the Tokaido, etc., and with the increase of the interest of common people in trips, its production numbers would have increased.
Shinban Gohunai-ryuko-meibutsu-annai-sugoroku drawn by Utagawa Yoshitsuya in about 1850 Shunkyo-tenarai-shussei-sugoroku drawn by Utagawa Hiroshige in the 1840s

Photo 5: Shinban Gohunai-ryuko-meibutsu-annai-sugoroku drawn by Utagawa Yoshitsuya in about 1850 (Museum Collection)

This is tobi-sugoroku with the starting point at Nihonbashi and the goal at Sanno Festival.

Photo 6: Shunkyo-tenarai-shussei-sugoroku drawn by Utagawa Hiroshige in the 1840s (Museum Collection)

Each title of oraimono texts, which were textbooks of calligraphy at the time, is written in the squares. The goal is Tenman-gu Shrine where a god of learning is worshiped.

The shusse-sugoroku with the theme of success in life has inherited the character of jodo-sugoroku in which players pass through ascetic practices to reach "Buddha." It would have become popular particularly because it was a game played in the joyous time of New Year. A representative example is "Odaimyo Shusse-sugoroku," which features the theme of success in life of a samurai family. Other similar kinds were also produced, and would have become popular in the society of samurai families wishing success in life.

Esugoroku as a whole is divided into many squares, and has the appearance of being "full of pictures.” There may have been a relationship with the picture books made in large numbers in the beginning and the middle of the Edo period, which gathered materials of a certain category and had the form of "full of ......," and nishiki-e made in large numbers from the late Tokugawa period to the beginning of the Meiji period, which divide the picture into small sections and depict materials of the same category in each section. Those had the function of information delivery, enlightenment, etc., and esugoroku also played a similar role. The rest of "Tanba-yosaku-matsuyo no Komurobushi" mentioned above describes how they rolled a dice while calling the names of the stations of the Tokaido, their local customs and their specialties. The game would have been effective also in naturally learning the names of the fifty-three stations while enjoying the game. "Shinban Gohunai-ryuko-meibutsu-annai-sugoroku," which features the theme of famous eateries in Edo such as “Ryori-chaya,” etc., also has the character of a guide of local specialties. "Shunkyo-tenarai-shussei-sugoroku" features the theme of oraimono texts for children learning at a temple school and has many educational considerations.
Shiki-tanoshimi-sugoroku from 1840s Shinban Yokai-tobimawari-sugoroku from the late Edo period

Photo 7: Shiki-tanoshimi-sugoroku from 1840s (Museum Collection)

This is tobi-sugoroku with the theme of seasonal events and customs in Edo.

Photo 8: Shinban Yokai-tobimawari-sugoroku from the late Edo period (Museum Collection)

This tobimawari-sugoroku has taken its material from the ghost picture book "Gazu Hyakki Yako" by Toriyama Sekien. It was published by a publisher in Nagoya.

In the late Edo period, sugoroku games with the theme of ghosts were produced in large numbers because of the boom of Hyakumonogatari, etc., and "Goketsu-suikoden-sugoroku" also reflected the boom of the Water Margin in the late Edo period.

Most of the sugoroku games you have played would be "mawari-sugoroku" in which players move the pieces forward in turn according to the number indicated by the rolled dice. However, in the Edo period, there were many "tobi-sugoroku" in which players make the pieces skip to the square of the number indicated in the current square, and there were also "tobimawari-sugoroku," which combines both of the above forms and "furiwake-sugoroku" in which players choose separate directions for their pieces at the starting point before starting the game.

Goketsu-suikoden-sugoroku drawn by Utagawa Kuniyoshi in about 1850 Ko-fuko-furiwake-sugoroku from the late Edo period

Photo 9: Goketsu-suikoden-sugoroku drawn by Utagawa Kuniyoshi in about 1850 (Museum Collection)

This was drawn by Kuniyoshi, who was a master of pictures of warriors, and became popular with his paintings of heroes of the Water Margin.

Photo 10: Ko-fuko-furiwake-sugoroku from the late Edo period (Museum Collection)

In this furiwake-sugoroku, players roll a dice at the start to choose the direction of ko (dutiful) or fuko (undutiful). Esugoroku is shown as a "reward" for the dutiful side.

From Tuesday, December 21 of this year to Sunday, January 30 of next year, we will hold the feature exhibition "Universe of Sugoroku," using some of the sugoroku games collected by the Museum. We hope you will visit the exhibition.

Jun-ichi Okubo (History of Early Modern Painting, Research Department)