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The Printer's Eye: Ukiyo-e from the Grabhorn Collection

Beauties of the Eastern Quarter: Onaka and Oshima of Nakacho [district], from the series Beauties
of the East, West, South, and North

approx. 1775-1777, by Kitao Shigemasa (Japanese, 1739–1820)
Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper

This print comes from a set of four representing beauties from the four directions—referring to four different prostitution districts in Edo. Nakachō was an area in the Fukugawa, the unlicenced pleasure quarters in the eastern part of Edo, where female musical performers known as tatsumi geisha were renowned for their cool attitudes and fashionable chic.

There are many impressions of this print; the Grabhorn version identifies the two women by name as Onaka (right) and Oshima (left). Both wear luxurious, cutting-edge fashions. Their kosode robes are decorated—with orchids or bamboo—only around the hems and lower front edges as was newly in vogue in the second half of the eighteenth century. Their hair is done in the popular marumage style— relatively flat in front with stiff, broad sidelocks and a large puffed topknot behind. Oshima's obi appears to be of a type of chintz (sarasa) made on India's Coromandel Coast for the Indonesian market and imported into Japan during the eighteenth century on Dutch ships. Onaka's obi is imprinted in gold at one end. Their black collars—Oshima's of luxurious and fashionable velvet—and their bare feet suggest the women are geisha. (Proud tatsumi geisha were known to wear bare feet year round.) Their skewed hair combs and prominently displayed folded tissue paper give a hint of eroticism.

Other prints in the series show beauties from the western quarter of Sakaichō, the southern quarter of Shinagawa, and the northern quarter of Yoshiwara. Melissa M. Rinne

Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, Gift of the Grabhorn Ukiyo-e Collection , 2005.100.62

Image © Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.