Nishizawa Ippū 西沢一風 (1665-1731)
Unidentified Artist
The Ashiwake Boat of Male Love
(Nanshoku ashiwake bune 男色脚分舟)

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), 1710
Woodblock-printed book; ink on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

The public’s sexualized perception of wakashū actors on the Kabuki stage led to the publication and popularization of illustrated actor reviews that praised wakashū in terms that often overlooked their professional acting skills. It is in the light of the restrained, sublimated eroticism of such actor reviews that The Ashiwake Boat of Male Love derives its power. “Ashiwake” usually refers to a marsh boat, a vessel that is designed to navigate effectively between the densely overgrown reeds that obstruct a waterway. However, since the topic that Ippū wished to illuminate was sexual in nature, he inserts into the title a ribald pun by substituting the third Chinese character, “reeds,” with one of its homophones, “legs.”

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