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

By the summer moon,
Depart out from Goyu and
Reach Akasaka.
(Natsu no tsuki / Goyu yori idete / Akasaka ya.)

This haiku, written by the poet Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) in 1676, expresses the short distance (a mere 1.1 mile) separating Akasaka, the thirty-sixth station on the Tōkaidō highway, from the preceding station, Goyu. This proximity to Goyu and its thriving sex industry explains why Hiroshige represented Akasaka with the image of an inn, where prostitutes apply facial makeup and prepare for an evening of work. In case we were to overlook these women, found on the far right side, Kunisada brings one of them into the foreground, where she chews on her bath towel, a gesture that was considered at the time to be particularly erotic, much like a woman in contemporary society might flirtatiously chew on one of the arms of her glasses.

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