Katsushika Hokusū 葛飾北嵩 (active c. 1800s–1830s)
Digging for Clams on the Seaside
(Umigishi no awabi tori)

From the series The Safflower Princess (Suetsumuhana)
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), c. 1817
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

In the upper left corner of the print, the artist inscribes “Sea of Ise,” a popular song in saibara, a genre of vocal court music popular during the Heian period (794–1185):

Near the sea at Ise We want to harvest sea-wheat While we collect mussels and sea shells We collect pearls I want to find one pearl.
(Ise no umi / Kiyoki nagisa no Shihogai ni, nanori zo yatsuma, Kai ya hirowamu.)

In the imaginations of men living in cities such as Edo, Osaka and Kyoto, women who worked in the fishing industry were sexually available beauties unrestrained by prudish, urban etiquette. In particular, abalone divers (ama), who performed physically rigorous work while partially nude, were the subject of innumerable woodblock prints, including non-explicit depictions by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806) and Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861). Since clams were symbols of a woman’s genitalia, the image of a clam diver was exceedingly ripe for erotic parody.

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