Kikugawa Eizan | Japan 1787–1867 | (Beauty on parade)c.1810 | Colour woodblock print on paper | 35.5 x 23.5cm | Purchased 1992. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery
(Beauty on parade) c.1810
The Edo or Tokugawa period (1605-1868) in Japan's history witnessed the rise of the chōnin, the prosperous urban-based merchant class.
The chōnin were deprived of participation in the political running of the country by the military elite. Therefore they channelled their energies into developing a vibrant consumer culture, involving leisure pursuits, patronage of the arts and an indulgence in material luxury. Their playground for displays of conspicuous consumption was Edo's (modern Tokyo) Yoshiwara district, which housed the city's licensed brothels, theatres and tea houses.
In the Yoshiwara district, spectacularly robed oiran (the highest ranking courtesans) could be seen parading with their attendants on their way to an assignation. This could take an inordinate length of time over a relatively short distance as the courtesan exploited the impact of her superb appearance by walking in a highly mannered style at a very slow pace. The spectacle of promenading courtesans was a favourite subject for ukiyo-e artists.
In this image, Eizan has taken delight in depicting the courtesan's highly ornate robes, an important element of parade and display. They are decorated with poem cards or shikishi (popular motifs for textile designs) which were used for writing poetry and painting small images.