Telling the Time in 17th-19th Century Japan
A number of Ukiyo-e series depict men and women going about their daily business throughout the twelve hours of the day. During the Edo period (1603 - 1868), the Japanese clock was divided into twelve units of time, or ‘hours’, with each one named after one . . .
Ohaguro: Beautiful Blackened Smiles
This print is one from an untitled group of designs by Utamaro, published around 1795. It shows a young woman seated on the ground, holding a black lacquered hand mirror and applying lip rouge with the aid of a brush. She is shown against a vibrant yellow ground and her form is rendered by a series of dramatically sweeping lines. The composition is wonderfully uncluttered - there is nothing in the design which does not belong to the beautification process . . .
How to Spot a Prostitute
I've been asked a fair few times recently if I can explain how to tell the difference between an ordinary Japanese wife, or teahouse girl, and a Yoshiwara courtesan in Japanese prints... so here goes. One of the first things that most people learn, from reading about Japanese prints, is that Yoshiwara women wore their obi tied at the front, and that does give us our first clue. Were you to rely upon that alone, however, you'd conclude that the woman shown standing in this . . .
Fusayōji - Tufted Toothpicks
Once again on the subject of teeth. This print, which just happens to be one of my favourites, from Utamaro's series Customs of Beauties around the Clock (Fūzoku bijin tokei), shows a young woman (the subtitle says 'a kept woman'), at about ten o'clock in the morning, brushing her teeth whilst her female servant holds a basin of water before her. In her hand the young woman is holding a bag of toothpowder, and over her shoulder a hand towel is draped. The thin . . .
The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan?
The two woodblock prints shown here, both by Utamaro, are from the series Seirō yūkun awase kagami (A Mirror of Courtesans of the Green Houses), published by Yamadaya Sanshirō around 1797. The print on the left depicts Kasugano and Utahama of the Tamaya brothel, whilst the one on the right shows the courtesan Hanaōgi alongside Takigawa from the Ōgiya brothel. The highest ranking courtesans of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter were celebrities . . .
Seven Reasons for Divorce
The 'Treasure Box of Greater Learning for Women' was a short treatise, first published in Japan in 1716, and generally accepted as being the work of Kaibara Ekiken (1630-1714). It contained guidelines concerning the proper instruction of women and included a list of behaviours for which a man would be justified in divorcing his wife. I thought I'd share them here. Let's see how many of us would still be married today if these rules had continued to be followed!