A Courtesan's Day

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Seigle, Cecilia Segawa
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A courtesan's day in the carefree atmosphere of the famous pleasure quarter the Yoshiwara in Edo (present-day Tokyo) was carefully planned to an hourly schedule. This sequence of twelve and later twenty-four hours proved a convenient device for Japanese print artists and their publishers when devising sets of prints showing favorite beauties of the day engaged in daily activities. This volume presents three prints series on the same theme produced over the course of a century. Besides being an obvious aid to collectors of these sets, it also provides a fascinating insight into the world of the female entertainer in Edo, and later Tokyo. The book opens with Cecilia Seigle's comprehensive introduction to life in this highly structured and tightly controlled pleasure quarter, offering insights into the often hard and occasionally glamorous life of the courtesan in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Edo. The first series treated here, Utamaro's famous 'Twelve Hours in Yoshiwara' (Seirô jûni toki tsuzuki), c. 1794, is shown in all its glory with descriptions by Tim Clark, Keeper of Japanese Antiquities at the British Museum. We then leap forward in time to the Meiji period when the status of women in Japanese society, and particularly those in the Yoshiwara, underwent substantial change. Alfred Marks discusses Yoshitoshi's set 'Twenty-four hours in Shinbashi and Yanagibashi' (Shinryû nijûshi toki), 1880, with translations of the copious textual information on the prints. Amy Newland concludes by examining Toyohara Kunichika's interpretation of the theme of 'twenty-four hours' as represented in his set 'The scenes of the twenty-four hours parodied' (Mitate chûya nijûyoji no uchi), 1890.