Okumura Masanobu 奥村政信 (1686-1764)
Lovers in Edo Fighting Over a Love Letter
From the series Love in Three Capitals
Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), 1720s
Woodblock print; ink on paper with hand-coloring
Gift of James A. Michener, 1991

The series of twelve prints Love in Three Capitals compares life in three brothel districts: the New Yoshiwara (est. 1657) in Edo, the Shimabara (est. 1640) of Kyoto, and the Shinmachi (est. 1623) in Osaka. The differences in regional culture that these glimpses of each location reveal are as insightful as they are humorous.

Here, a high-ranking courtesan in the Yoshiwara district (a seal in the upper right corner identifies this location as Edo) is in the midst of entertaining a client with music, wine and intimate conversation when the courtesan’s assistant (kamuro) appears with an urgent message from another client.

Realizing the need to maintain confidentiality, the young girl covers the current client’s eyes from behind and, holding the love letter in her mouth, passes it to the courtesan. The courtesan reaches out to take the note and displays no surprise, as if such urgent correspondences were common. Unlike women in other brothel districts, the high-level courtesans of the Yoshiwara were famous for gracefully attending to attention-hungry clients but also for ensuring a certain degree of competition between those clients.

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