Isoda Koryūsai 礒田湖竜斎 (1735-1790)
Kickball (Kemari 蹴鞠)

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), c. 1770
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1987

A young wakashū visiting the pleasure quarter amuses himself with a solo game of kickball while a courtesan watches from behind the lattice window of her brothel’s parlor. Kickball was a traditional pastime of the aristocracy since the Heian period (794-1185). In addition to underscoring the lack of freedom and social inequality that the women of the Yoshiwara endured, this print also ironically alludes to the scene in Chapter 34 of The Tale of Genji (11th century) in which the courtier Kashiwagi catches a glimpse of the Third Princess and immediately falls in love while enjoying the sport.

Despite the sense of cultural refinement that the courtesans worked hard to exude, the sort of romantic relationship discussed in classical works such as The Tale of Genji was forbidden in the Yoshiwara, where sex was viewed as a commodity rather than an expression of affection.

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