Nishikawa Sukenobu 西川祐信 (1671-1750)
Nishikawa Suketada 西川祐尹 (act. 1740-1760)
The Illustrated Lives of Women
(Ehon Mitsuwagusa 絵本三ツ和草), vol. 3

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), 1758
Woodblock-printed book; ink on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

The inscription on the right page is a Chinese quote by the Tang dynasty poet Hanshan (flourished 9th century):

Though our lives last less than a hundred years,
We carry in our hearts a thousand years worth of worry.

The quote is accompanied by an illustration by Sukenobu and a brief commentary on the poem by Sukenobu’s son Suketada. In Sukenobu’s image, a tayū stands with a pensive expression on her face, as if pondering some troublesome, personal matter, while her patron smiles up at her and strokes her back. To the right, the tayū’s kamuro (adolescent assistant) and her shinzō (courtesan-in-training) sit respectfully, and the smiling shinzō offers the tayū a cup of wine. Despite the melancholy mood set by Hanshan’s poem, this image of a young woman receiving the reassurance and encouragement of her comrades is heartwarming. Women who were fortunate enough to acquire a certain level of status and privilege within the Yoshiwara were able to enjoy a degree of emotional and physical comfort in their daily lives.

View this book in its entirety on museum database (enabled through support by the Robert F. Lange Foundation)