The inscription on the painting is signed Tojaku, the poetry name used by Iwai Hanshiro IV (1747-1800), who along with Segawa Kikunojo III, was considered one of the best onnagata actors of the 1770s, '80s and '90s. His slightly chubby-cheeked face, clearly suggested in this painting, was popular with audiences and earned him the endearing nickname "Otafuku Hanshiro." (Otafuku was the plump-faced, always cheerful woman of Japanese folklore.) The inscription reads:
go-Edo no mizu ya
How grateful we are
for the waters of Edo--
filled with irises!
The seventeen-syllable haiku praises the city of Edo, renowned for its abundance of waterways and ponds. Recalling that the Chinese characters making up the poetry name Tojaku may be read as kakitsubata (irises), the poem also suggests that the acting career of Hanshiro flourished with the support of the Edo public.
Comparison with the Katsukawa actor prints indicates a mid-1780s date for the painting, perhaps around 1786, the year the actor returned to Edo after an extended series of performances at Osaka theaters. By 1790, Shunko began painting with his left hand, and subsequently styled himself Sahitsusai, or the Studio of the Left-handed Brush.