Looking in Pain: a Prostitute
of the Kansei Era
Itasô Kansei nenkan jorô no fûzoku
Colour print from woodblocks
with textile printing (nunomezuri), gloss black (tsuyazumi)
and imitation woodgrain (itame mokuhan). Ôban
Publisher: Tsunashima Kamekichi. First edition, printed 25/02/1888.
Block-cutter: Wada hori Yû.
Keyes 503-3; Stevenson 3
From the series Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners (Fûzoku sanjûnisô).
The particular word used in the title suggests that she is a lower-class prostitute (jorô). Her hairstyle reproduces fashions of the Kansei era (1789-1801) as they appeared in the prints of Utamaro, although the use of square pins is anachronistic. She bites a handkerchief to stifle the pain as she is tattooed; this gesture more usually seen in erotic prints (shunga) where a woman stifles a cry of passion. The tattoo is probably the name of her lover; a well-known print by Utamaro shows a prostitute tattooing her name onto her lover's arm. The print was undoubtedly intended to have erotic overtones, which are reinforced by the glimpse of her red underrobe. Her teeth are blackened with dye made from iron filings (ohaguro). Blackened teeth were considered attractive (visible teeth were regarded as improper) and were usually the mark of a married woman, although prostitutes also blackened their teeth as a sign of adulthood.
Given by the Friends of the