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Looking in Pain: a Prostitute of the Kansei Era
Itasô Kansei nenkan jorô no fûzoku

Looking in Pain

Colour print from woodblocks with textile printing (nunomezuri), gloss black (tsuyazumi) and imitation woodgrain (itame mokuhan). Ôban format.
Publisher: Tsunashima Kamekichi. First edition, printed 25/02/1888.
Block-cutter: Wada hori Yû.
Keyes 503-3; Stevenson 3

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From the series Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners (Fûzoku sanjûnisô).

Click here for other prints in this series.

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.

Click here for a print of a woman blackening her teeth

Given by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam, 2004