Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 / Toyokuni III 三代歌川豊国 (1786–1865)
From the series Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō with Beauties
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), 1848
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of Dr. & Mrs. C. M. Cooke, 1935

The fortieth station on the Tōkaidō highway was Narumi (modern-day Nagoya). The third chapter of Tale of the Heike (Heike monogatari, late 12th century) refers to an encounter between Fujiwara Morotaka (died 1177), son of the poet Saigyō (1118–1190), and a prostitute (yūkun) from Narumi, indicating that the sex industry in this city was established well before the Edo period (1615–1868).

In Kunisada’s image, the woman in the foreground is a door-to-door vendor of folding fans (sensu) rather than a prostitute. In numerous works of ukiyo-e, however, fan salesmen consistently were depicted as attractive and highly promiscuous wakashū (biological males), entering a woman’s house under false pretenses and seducing her, much like the way in which pizza delivery boys are depicted in contemporary Western erotica. Here, Kunisada assures us that fan distributors were equal opportunity employers and that some fan vendors were female.

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