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Views of Edo Japan

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Ando Hiroshige (aka Hiroshige), Japanese, (1797–1858)
One Hundred Famous Views of Edo: 38, Dawn in the Yoshiwara, 1857
Ink on Paper
13 3/8 in. x 8 7/8 in. (339.73 mm x 225.43 mm)


Object Type: Print
Technique: Wood-block Printing
Creation Place: Asia, Japan
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Frederick S. Bailey
Accession Number: 54.1.45


Commentary
Yoshiwara was the center of Edo’s entertainment district, or pleasure quarters. Tea houses, Kabuki theaters and brothels comprised the ukiyo or “floating world” depicted in ukiyo-e (prints, paintings and illustrated books). In 17th and 18th century ukiyo-e prints, artists focused their attention on the human activity and famous characters of Yoshiwara. However, Hiroshige with his many lyrical portrayals of scenic spots in Edo, was more interested in the urban landscape than its characters. In this image of Yoshiwara too, Hiroshige relegated people to a minor role, prioritizing instead the buildings, main gate and central street, all framed by luminous cherry trees in the foreground.

- Meher McArthur, January 7, 2021

_______________________

In one of the most beautifully executed prints of the entire series, Hiroshige has here placed us in a strangely evocative zone of transition, as dawn begins to break in the Yoshiwara licensed quarter.

The season is springtime, the most important transition of the year - from the dark and cold winter, as suggested here by the hovering band of night sky above, to the fresh green of spring, which we see creeping up in the lovely overprinting below.  The cherries are in flower but their blossoms still need the fullness of the sun to reveal the complete glory of the pink which is still a pale glow here.  These cherries were a peculiar Yoshiwara institution.  They were temporarily transplanted to a raised bed of soil along the main avenue of the quarter for the brief duration of their spectacular bloom - then were whisked away, in what constitutes an appropriate image for a well-spent night in the brothel itself.

The place is seemingly indeterminate.  It is one of the several side streets leading out into the central avenue of Nakanocho.  But it must be to the southeast, in the direction of the dawn, and it must surely lead into one of the three major side streets.  All things considered, it is probably Sumicho, the "corner" district that intersects the Nakanocho at dead center.  The sumi here indicates an interior rather than an exterior corner, reinforcing the title's suggestion that we are at the very center of the quarter.  But to get out of this strange world, this microcosm lying both morally and geographically at the very periphery of the city of Edo, one must of course make a turn, to the left from our point of view, toward Omon Gate, the one point of entry and departure for visitors to the Yoshiwara.  The lead figure whom we see here is making just such a turn.

The time of day is of course dawn, or more precisely that magic moment when in the space of a few minutes the eastern horizon begins to brighten - seen here in the subtle flush of red against the right post of the Sumicho gateway.  In the center of the street, a lantern still glows, and to the left we can make out a distinct cluster of four figures.  To the left is the guest, his "cheek-cover hood" (hokammuri-zukin) discreetly in place, his face featureless in preparation for the anonymous journey home.  An attendant to the rear seems anxious to return to bed, while another one with a lantern stands in front of the guest, facing awkwardly away from him and toward the courtesan herself, who is clad in a garishly bright red overgarment and, even at this early hour, wears raised black clogs that mark her high rank.  Yet she does not face the guest.  Daybreak had classic associations in Japanese literature with parting lovers, and the difficulty and distance we sense here belong to that legacy.

Marks
On verso in pencil: Bai 45a. On mat in pencil: Hiroshige 100 Views of Edo #38 Yoshiwara BAI II 45A. Signed: Hiroshige ga. Censor's seal: Aratame and date seal (M-shi).

Medium
Colored ink on paper; woodblock print.

Object Description
Color woodblock print with an image of figures walking through a gateway in Yoshiwara, at dawn.

In one of the most beautifully executed prints of the entire series, Hiroshige has here placed us in a strangely evocative zone of transition, as dawn begins to break in the Yoshiwara licensed quarter.

The season is springtime, the most important transition of the year - from the dark and cold winter, as suggested here by the hovering band of night sky above, to the fresh green of spring, which we see creeping up in the lovely overprinting below.  The cherries are in flower but their blossoms still need the fullness of the sun to reveal the complete glory of the pink which is still a pale glow here.  These cherries were a peculiar Yoshiwara institution.  They were temporarily transplanted to a raised bed of soil along the main avenue of the quarter for the brief duration of their spectacular bloom - then were whisked away, in what constitutes an appropriate image for a well-spent night in the brothel itself.

The place is seemingly indeterminate.  It is one of the several side streets leading out into the central avenue of Nakanocho.  But it must be to the southeast, in the direction of the dawn, and it must surely lead into one of the three major side streets.  All things considered, it is probably Sumicho, the "corner" district that intersects the Nakanocho at dead center.  The sumi here indicates an interior rather than an exterior corner, reinforcing the title's suggestion that we are at the very center of the quarter.  But to get out of this strange world, this microcosm lying both morally and geographically at the very periphery of the city of Edo, one must of course make a turn, to the left from our point of view, toward Omon Gate, the one point of entry and departure for visitors to the Yoshiwara.  The lead figure whom we see here is making just such a turn.

The time of day is of course dawn, or more precisely that magic moment when in the space of a few minutes the eastern horizon begins to brighten - seen here in the subtle flush of red against the right post of the Sumicho gateway.  In the center of the street, a lantern still glows, and to the left we can make out a distinct cluster of four figures.  To the left is the guest, his "cheek-cover hood" (hokammuri-zukin) discreetly in place, his face featureless in preparation for the anonymous journey home.  An attendant to the rear seems anxious to return to bed, while another one with a lantern stands in front of the guest, facing awkwardly away from him and toward the courtesan herself, who is clad in a garishly bright red overgarment and, even at this early hour, wears raised black clogs that mark her high rank.  Yet she does not face the guest.  Daybreak had classic associations in Japanese literature with parting lovers, and the difficulty and distance we sense here belong to that legacy.

Publisher
Uoei (Uo-ya Eikichi).

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