Kitao Shigemasa 北尾重政 (1739-1820)
Katsukawa Shunshō 勝川春章 (1726-1792)
A Mirror of Beautiful Women of the Green Houses Compared
(Seirō bijin awase sugata kagami 青楼美人合姿鏡), vol. 1: Spring / Summer
Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), 1776
Woodblock-printed book; ink and color on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003
Depicted here are women of the Chōjiya Brothel: Hinazuru (lower left page) writes a poem; Chōzan (upper left page) reads Tales of Glory (Eiga Monogatari ), an epic about the life of the Heian courtier Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1028); and Senzan (right page) practices her calligraphy. In the third volume of this text appear poems that were supposedly composed by these women. Senzan’s poem reads as follows:
On the white paper of the hand fan, even the moonflower [disappears].
(Yūgao ni/ hana mo shiraji no / Ōgi ka na)
The poem refers to the 4th chapter of The Tale of Genji (11th century), in which Lord Genji is found picking moonflowers (yūgao) in a garden. A young woman approaches him and offers him a hand fan (ōgi) to rest the flowers upon and to keep them from getting damaged.
As Senzan points out, however, both moonflowers as well as the face of a hand fan are white in color, and so the beauty of the flowers is not easily noticeable. In the same way, Senzan seems to be implying that, although the Yoshiwara was designed as a relatively protective environment, its function as a playground for sex blinded visitors to her true beauty and need for affection.
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