Utagawa Toyokuni I 初代歌川豊国 (1769-1825)
Courtesans Promenading on the Naka-no-chō in the Shin-Yoshiwara
Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), c. 1795
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1955
Toyokuni I here offers an updated revision of The Scene of Shin Yoshiwara Naka-no-chō in Japan, a similar uki-e (perspective print) published twenty-five years earlier by Toyokuni’s predecessor Utagawa Toyoharu (1735-1814), on display nearby. As with Toyoharu’s, the viewer is standing in the middle of Naka-no-chō, the main boulevard of the Yoshiwara, and facing northward towards the entrance gate, which is visible in the distance. Toyokuni pays far more attention to the facial expression and personality of each individual in the crowd, and we can understand more clearly the relationships between various characters.
In the center panel, an unidentified oiran (high-level courtesan) walks with her two shinzō (teenage apprentices) on one side and her kamuro (adolescent assistants) on the other. In the left panel, an oiran sits at the entrance of the Tamaya brothel and smokes a pipe. In the right panel, an oiran, her shinzō, and her kamuro chat with one another. The scene exudes a sense of festivity with no sign of the economic hardship the district had previously endured.
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