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

Street scene in the pleasure quarter
approx. 1705–1715, by Okumura Masanobu (Japanese, 1686–1764)
Woodblock print; ink on paper

It is late afternoon on a street in the Yoshiwara, Edo's licensed prostitution district. An old man leans on a cane as he listens to the sound of a shamisen, the stringed instrument played by one of two prostitutes seated in a latticed window display (harimise). Nearby, a notions vendor kneels beside a carrying case stacked with boxes, as a maid places her order near the brothel's entrance. Out in the street, the procession of a sumptuously attired tayū (a high-ranking courtesan) and two kamuro halts for a moment before a potential customer, a disguised samurai, his features hidden by a deep straw hat. The attendant who follows keeps a close eye on the man bowing at his side, possibly a male entertainer (taiko) trying to solicit the samurai's business. Completing this picture of commerce in the pleasure quarter is a second vendor, who lifts a fan-shaped object from the box held at his waist. A label on the box identifies his wares as goraigō: toys made from a bamboo tube with a small clay, paper, or wood Buddha inside. When the tube is lowered, a hidden Buddha pops up, surrounded by a folded paper mandorla. This charming toy equates the Yoshiwara's myriad pleasures with the excitement of being welcomed to paradise (raigō) by the Buddha Amitabha. Laura W. Allen

Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
Gift of the Grabhorn Ukiyo-e Collection , 2005.100.7.

Image © Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.