Japan, isolated from the outside world for centuries, finally opened its borders in the 1860s. Japanese culture reached Europe most rapidly in the form of prints, which were exported in huge numbers and widely collected. This album was one of many traded in Paris by the Japanese dealer Tademasa Hayashi. He sold it in 1885 to the writer Edmond de Goncourt, who revealed its secrets in his book about the artist Utamaro in 1891.
The album, intended to be viewed from right to left, opens to reveal the only known complete set of this series of woodcuts, which Utamaro conceived as a 'parody' (mitate) of the most famous revenge-play of Kabuki - the popular Japanese theatre. The play's historical warriors are replaced here by contemporary beauties going about their lives in the pleasure quarter of Edo (Tokyo). Purchasers of the series would have delighted in catching on to allusions to the play and thinly-disguised historical events. In the play's final scene the evil villain is discovered hiding in a coal store: at the end of this album Utamaro depicts himself as the villain, revelling in a brothel.