Ma Brigade, Fifth Group (Gobangumi): (Actor Nakamura Shikan IV as) Matsuomaru, from the series Matches for the Kana Syllables (Mitate iroha awase)

「み立いろはあわせ」 ま 「五番組」 「松王丸」 四代目中村芝翫

Edo period
1866 (Keiô 2), 8th month


Vertical ôban; 35.5 × 24.4 cm (14 × 9 5/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper

Not On View


Asia, Prints and Drawings



The complete series of 48 sheets plus title page: 11.40423 to 11.40471.
The series title refers not just to the letters of the kana syllabary but to the firefighting brigades of Edo, which were organized into 48 groups to the west of the Sumida River, each designated by a single kana syllable (with 16 additional groups to the east of the river, not included here). In naming the fire brigades, the syllables Hi, He, Ra, and N, because they suggested words with bad implications, were replaced by the characters for Hyaku (100), Sen (1000), Man (10,000), and Hon respectively.
The brigades were further organized into larger groups numbered from one to ten, leaving out the bad luck numbers 4 and 7, for a total of 8 groups; each group included four to nine brigades.
On the title page for the series, each background square lists the brigades in one of the groups and the kabuki characters shown in the individual prints, whose names start with the same syllables as the respective brigades.




Kunichika hitsu (on main image); Manji Tachô hitsu (on title panel)


Censor's seal: Tiger 8 aratame
Blockcutter's mark: Katada Hori Chô


By 1911, purchased by William Sturgis Bigelow (b. 1850–d. 1926), Boston [see note 1]; 1911, gift of Bigelow to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 19, 2005)

[1] Much of Bigelow's collection of Asian art was formed during his residence in Japan between 1882 and 1889, although he also made acquisitions in Europe and the United States. Bigelow deposited many of these objects at the MFA in 1890 before donating them to the Museum's collection at later dates.

Credit Line

William Sturgis Bigelow Collection