Hana Moyō (Patterns for Flowers), by Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915), is a series of triptychs published in 1896, each one of which features a beautiful woman from a specific historical era set against a distant background scene. The way the figure in the foreground is shown close-up in contrast to the smaller figures depicted in the background of each triptych makes this an unusual and striking set of designs. The title refers both to the beauties themselves (the flowers) and the patterns of their beautifully decorated garments. It's a stunning set and one of my favourites. It's also very interesting for anyone wanting to compare the modes of dress and arrangement of hair throughout different periods of Japanese history.
Above: The Keichō Era (1596-1615). The above design is often described as being a picture of a male actor; the subject is actually a woman. As we are so accustomed to the fact that men play both the male and female roles on the kabuki stage nowadays, and have done since 1629, it may surprise you to learn that kabuki's creator was in fact a woman. Her name was Okuni and she is the woman depicted here. She is shown dressed as a man, taking part in a performance which took place on the third day of the sixth month of 1606.
Above: The Kanbun Era (1661-1673). The woman shown in this print is wearing her hair in the katsuyama style, which was introduced during the middle of the seventeenth century and became very popular during the Genroku era (1688-1704). Her robe is adorned with a pattern of poetry cards.
Above: The Kyōhō Era (1716-1736). A courtesan is shown during the nighttime, her hair falling around her shoulders. She is tying her sash and holding a wad of tissues between her teeth, something often seen in depictions of courtesans.
Above: The An'ei Era (1772-1781). The print above shows a young woman making her way to a bathhouse. She is wearing a ribbon around her hair (which is worn in the bai-mage style) to keep it tidy while she is bathing, there is a towel draped over her shoulder for drying off when she is done, and between her teeth she is holding a nukabukuro, a bran bag which, like modern soap, was used for washing the skin.
Above: The Tenmei Era (1781-1789). A beauty with her hair dressed in the tate-hyōgo style is shown holding a mirror in one hand and a tissue in the other as she applies her make-up, wearing a robe decorated with scenes from the Tale of Genji.
Above: The Bunka Era (1804-1818). A courtesan, wearing her hair in the shimada style, is dressing the hair of the courtesan before her, whose hair is arranged in the marumage style and adorned with numerous hair pins. You'll come across these two styles a lot amongst Utamaro's prints, as they were very popular towards the end of the 18th century and into the nineteenth.
Above: The Tenpō Era (1830-1844). In the above print, a courtesan is shown with men making their way along Naka-no-chō, the central boulevard of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter, behind her. On the right, a man is advertising Ichi-ya noodles. Ichi-ya can also mean one night, as in one night stand, so the sign is also intended as a reference to the fleeting nature of the woman's relationships with the men who visit the pleasure quarter. Her hair is arranged in the yoko-hyōgo style and decorated with a multitude of pins. By this time, a courtesan's hair incorporated so much adornment, it's a wonder that she could walk without toppling over due to the sheer weight of it all.