Insui Sōjin Nameyasu 婬水騒人嘗安 (active c. mid-19th century)
Utagawa Kunimaro 歌川國麿 (active c. 1830s-1860s)
A Treasure Ship Embarking at the Isle of Women
(Nyōgo no shima takara no irifune), vol. 1 of 3
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), c. 1848–1854
Woodblock-printed book; ink and color on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003
The introduction of this text credits as a source of inspiration the Chinese encyclopedia Collected Illustrations of the Three Realms (Sancai Tuhui, 1607), which describes “a land of women at the edge of the Southern sea.” Another source suggested by the book's title is the puppet play “The Isle of Women from the Tale of the Heike” (Heike Nyōgo-ga-shima, 1719), written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725). Inspired by a historical event recounted in the Tale of the Heike (Heike monogatari, late 12th century), this play portrays three men exiled to the Isle of the Demon Realm (Kikai ga shima) in the wake of their failed uprising against military leader Taira no Kiyomori (1118-1181).
Nameyasu’s story, by contrast, describes a craftsman, an unemployed playboy, and an incompetent doctor who depart Edo on a fishing trip and, after a torrential storm leaves them entirely disoriented, light upon the Isle of Women. The inhabitants of the island assemble to greet their visitors, and after an interview as well as a close inspection of their genitals, judge the men to be splendid representatives of their gender who are warmly welcome to inhabit the island. The remainder of the story proceeds as one might expect.
Of particular interest is the way in which Kunimaro uses costuming and interior design to portray the Isle of Women as an exotic, foreign culture and thereby heighten the story’s erotic tone. The throne upon which the Empress of the island sits in a scene from the first volume is a Ryūkyū variation of a Chinese prototype, covered in characteristically Ryūkyūan red lacquer, and fitted with a Chinese brocade silk cushion. The Empress’ floral headdress is almost identical to the one depicted by Keisai Eisen (1790–1848) nearby.
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