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

Kambara, located in modern-day Shizuoka Prefecture, was the fifteenth station on the Tōkaidō highway. It is most famous as the subject of Night Snow at Kambara by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), which Kunisada appropriates for his background here. At the same time, Kunisada inserts a prostitute in the foreground, riding on a black-haired bull whose chromatic intensity and wide tonal range strip the print of its austerity and quietude.

Much like the image of Samantabhadra (Japanese: Fugen) by Suzuki Harunobu (1725?–1770), on display elsewhere in this exhibition, this depiction of a courtesan astride a bull brings to mind the male Buddhist deity Mañjuśrī (Japanese: Monju or Monjushiri). According to folklore, when Kūkai (a.k.a. Kōbō Daishi; 774–835), the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, met Mañjuśrī along the Upper Liusha River in China, they exchanged vows of erotic love. This tale, combined with the fact that the latter half of Mañjuśrī’s name sounds identical to the Japanese word for buttocks (shiri), cemented the deity’s reputation within Japan as the patron saint of nanshoku (male love).

As a whole, these reinterpretations of Hiroshige’s Tōkaidō series not only wittily emphasize the extent to which domestic travel fueled the Japanese sex industry, they also offers insight into regional differences within Japan’s sexual culture, and like Kunisada’s depiction of Fukuroi, this image subtly implies the continuation of nanshoku practices that were far more often depicted in Japanese art up until the 18th century.

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