Isoda Koryūsai 礒田湖竜斎 (1735-1790)
The Courtesan Michiharu of the Tsutaya Brothel Accompanied by her Attendants
(Tsutaya no uchi Michiharu つた屋の内 みちはる)

From the series Models for Fashion: New Designs as Fresh as Young Leaves
(Hinagata wakana no hatsu moyō 雛形若菜初模様)

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), c. 1778
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1991

Here, the courtesan Michiharu (far right), her shinzō (apprentice), who faces the viewer, and her two kamuro (adolescent assistants) perform in a ceremonial procession in late summer. As the Edo period (1615-1868) progressed, the cleats of a courtesans’ clogs grew in height and their kimono became increasingly heavy, making the choreographed “figure-eight” walk they were required to perform extremely challenging.

Occasionally, a courtesan would stumble and fall during a procession, in which case she would be required to retreat to the nearest teahouse, send her attendant home for a new set of clothes, change into the new outfit, donate her previous outfit to the teahouse, and later pay the teahouse staff an additional fee for their assistance. For courtesans whose daily income was unpredictable and who were struggling to meet expenses for their shinzō, kamuro, and themselves, the mere possibility of such an accident must have been a source of intense anxiety.

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