Utagawa Toyoharu 歌川豊春 (1735-1814)
Year-end Dance Party in the New Yoshiwara Pleasure Quarter
(Shin-Yoshiwara Sōjimai no Zu 新吉原総仕舞之図)

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), c. 1775-1780
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1957

Though the shogunate had blocked most foreign trade throughout the Edo period (1615-1868), Dutch traders were allowed into the bay of Nagasaki. European engravings that displayed Western pictorial perspective eventually gained popularity within Japan during the late 1730s, giving birth to the sub-genre prominently featuring the technique of perspective known as uki-e (literally, “floating pictures”).

Not surprisingly, the grounds of the Yoshiwara, with its emphasis on cosmopolitan chic and visual novelty, were often depicted in these dramatic examples of single- and multi-point perspective. Here, Toyoharu offers us a glimpse of a year-end party (bō’nen-kai) at the cavernous banquet hall in one of the houses of assignation (ageya).

The revelers have begun a line-dance, with the dancers’ order within that line reflecting their size, age, and social status within the Yoshiwara. A yarite (chaperone of courtesans) leads, followed by two teenage shinzō (courtesans-in-training) with their long-sleeved kimono, and ending with seven adolescent kamuro (attendants of courtesans). Elsewhere, shinzō perform music on the shamisen or chat with male clients, while statuesque chūsan (literally “tea waitresses,” the most prestigious courtesans at that time), dispersed throughout the hall, watch over the festivities.

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