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« A Reading Rat, by Miyashita Tokio | Main | Happy New Year! »

Monday, 27 December 2010


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Jason Gignac

I'm interested, not knowing much about Japanese history at all, was inhumanly pale a beauty standard, or simply a painting shorthand? I thought makeup left a piece of skin unpainted at the nape of the neck, which makes me wonder if the paleness was universally required, if they would have painted their hands, as they are so white in the paintings as well.

Also, what's with the holding things in their teeth? Was this to show off their lovely teeth, or spare their hands the work, or what?

G. R. Collia

Pale skin was preferred. A white make-up was used on the face and neck, and courtesans (and some entertainers) applied it elsewhere too, such as their hands, feet and ankles, so they could show off pale feet when they shifted their skirts aside to give admirers a little thrill. There would have been a little area around the hairline at the nape of the neck that showed where the white make-up met the bare skin, but it's not always made obvious in prints. Utamaro designed an image of a woman powdering her neck that highlighted the contrast between the woman's skin and her make-up... It's one of my favourites, so I'll have to post it on here some time. Another reason for the paleness in the prints is that for the areas of bare skin the paper is simply left uncoloured.

As for holding things in the teeth, it depends on the object. Tissues being held in a courtesan's teeth tend to allude to her profession - she'd need them, after all. In other situations, biting down on fabric can signify the suppression of emotion.


Fascinating stuff as always. I look forward to some day getting a better feel for the hairstyles, their names, and when they were popular.

I am curious, why do you think the figure in the first image is Okuni? The squiggly hentaigana is a bit hard to make out, but I'm fairly certain the kanji for "Izumo" or "Okuni" do not appear...

Malcolm R. Campbell

What a wonderful series! I love your commentary.

Happy New Year.


G. R. Collia

Travis, the name is in there, though not in the usual kanji. Kiyochika designed another print of Okinu, for the series 'kyōdō risshi no motoi', in which she is dressed in a very similar manner. Can't find an image of that right now, but it's a lovely print and she's a very imposing figure in it.

G. R. Collia

Happy New Year to you too, Malcolm! Glad you enjoyed the prints. I love the vibrant colours... just breathtaking.

Diane A. Phillips

Thank you, thank you, thank you! for the incredible work you did on your catalog of Utamaro prints. I inherited a number of ukiyoe, including several Utamaros, and am able to find them in your catalog, all but one, which is an Ebisu which does not fit the descriptions of those in your catalog. The provenance goes back to the German ambassador to Japan during the 1930s, Solf, who was a friend of my parents-in-law and who gave them the print. Would you like me to email you a picture of it? Diane A.

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A blog by Gina Collia-Suzuki: Art historian, history nut, writer, artist, Victorianist, bibliophile, vegetarian foodie, child of the Enlightenment, friend of Charles Darwin, full-time rat fancier and part-time assassin.

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