1: Yoshiwara Courtesan
A ranking courtesan and a young customer are enveloped by layers of robes and brocades, a porcelain planter with blooming plum blossoms at the upper left.
The poem at the upper left reads:
To none other than you
Is the scent of the plum blossom
Given to smell;
The color and the fragrance
Known only to you
Plum blossoms are associated with early spring and new beginnings, such as the loss of virginity. Apparently this is the first time for the young man who is overwhelmed by the encounter: "'The Tale of Genji' tells everything of the beauty of Lady Murasaki, but you are just as beautiful, above comparison to even the moon or the flowers. When I look at your figure and your dress, it seems to me that you are the finest in the world."
2: Last Customer of the Evening in the Yoshiwara
A courtesan wearing a kosode decorated with a ho-o bird embraces a man resting his head on a cushioned lacquer pillow. She is trying to appease him, apparently her last customer of the evening who has been kept waiting. He complains: "You made me wait quite a while, haven't you? I'm not letting you go anywhere after this." She assures him of his importance: "I wouldn't exchange you for the moon or the flowers. Because of you, I don't hate even my most arduous duties. Please be sure to never abandon me."
3: Daughter of a Great House
While her lover pledges his devotion the daughter of a wealthy family seems more grateful to have a break in her boring routine and casts aside the books she was reading. He declares: "Secretly making love in this place, it's a particularly good feeling. If I could I would stay coupled with you like this for the rest of my life." She responds: "Tonight I was feeling lonely, reading a book. Do you think this is too dangerous? Ah, go deeper in, strongly, uh, ooh, ohh..."
4: The Lady of a Mercantile House
The lady of a prosperous household has been entertaining her loverat upper left is a porcelain cup decorated with tako-karakusa (octopus vine pattern), and a tobacco set. She lays back and flings her arms over her head pulling at her hair and bracing herself. Her lover comments: "It feels like an octopus' suckers sticking to my palm. This is truly a high quality vagina." She answers: "I feel good, like I've eaten many treats at once. I lack the words to describe it. I'm satisfied time and again, like my forty-four bones are melting."
5: Young Lovers at the New Year
A young couple are in the back room of a middle-class house, with pine and blossoming plum bonsai trees on a verandah at upper left. They are overwhelmed with sentiment about being together at the turning of the New Year. The man comments: "There's no day when all the creatures under the sun from the bush warbler that calls from the flowers to the frog living in the pond are prohibited from having sex. The first exchange of the new year is important." She replies: "Even the crows and the white egrets in the mountains have someone they love. The clumsy-footed mandarin ducks are also very affectionate. Please don't ever abandon me."
6: Teahouse on Nakanocho in Yoshiwara
A geisha, dressed elaborately for the cherry blossom festival, with karazuri ('blind printing') on the black and white shibori lining her kosode, is exchanging favors with a customer. At right on a serving tray a fish presented on a porcelain dish, at left is a sake kettle and cup. The dialogue between the pair sets the scene in a ryori-chaya (teahouse restaurant) on the Nakanocho, the main street in the Yoshiwara. She is supposed to only entertain the customer, and she worries about being caught while the customer revels in his indulgences. He comments: "On such an interesting Nakanocho evening, with a sky so beautiful as to make the flowers sing its praises, soliciting a geisha in this place I'm such a wastrel." She responds: "Stop saying such foolish things and let's quickly be done. It wouldn't be good if someone were to come by."
7: The Daughter of a Great House
A daughter of a great house risks a moment with her lover, at upper left is an open suzuribako (writing box) and letters. The lover is excited to be with the young woman in her own room: "Doing it in this kind of place feels particularly good. It's really making me aroused." She responds: "It would be bad if someone came upon us, so you have to be quick. Oh I'm getting very dizzy. Yes, ooh, uh, uh, that's it, that's it."
8: Husband and Wife
The lovers lock eyes, he holds a folding fan and she holds folded tissues (onkotogami). At left is a lantern decorated with flowers and at right is a cabinet with books and scrolls. They are comfortable enough with each other to banter while making love. She discusses a jojuri (chanting) lyric which contrasts with her own apparent confidence: "'Embarrassed, the hand clasped underneath the pillow' is a good lyric." He quibbles: "This isn't the sort of place to quote jojuri. We're in the middle of a big commotion here."
The poem on the fan reads:
In the mid-air
A little cuckoo crosses, calling-
Heralding the end of spring
And the poem on the lantern reads:
Whoever you are
Let me show you
The lantern on the eave
9: Yoshiwara Courtesan
A ranking courtesan in gorgeous robes contends with an indecisive customer grasping her lower leg. He dallies while he contemplates his options: "An oiran looks good from either the side or the front...perhaps today, let's make it the side." She grows impatient: "Don't say such useless, foolish thing; hurry up and come inside."
The poem on the lantern at left reads:
The wind of the fan
Parts the mist
The hollyhocks in the valley
Beautiful to the eye
10: Yoshiwara Courtesan with Secret Lover
A courtesan and her lover frantically make love. He grasps her upper thigh as she braces herself with her foot on a lacquer cabinet beside a folding screen at left. She is relieved to finally be in the arms of her mabu (non-paying lover): "Out of all the many men I've slept with, I promised myself deeply to you, and I sneak out to meet youbut when we part my feelings grow even stronger". He reassures her: "Endure the hard times and the suffering, and at the end we will be man and wife. Just look forward to that day."
11: Yoshiwara Courtesan
A courtesan relaxes with a devoted customer surrounded by gorgeous robes and furnishings. At left is a black and gold lacquer cabinet and portable tobacco set; at right is a panel from
screen and sugoroku table. The customer has lavish praise: "Your skin is whiter than the reflection of the rising sun on snow, and soft and smooth like white habutae silk. To touch it is indescribable." She encourages him: "Oh yes, go deeper into me, and strongly. Hold me tightly. Ooh, ooh, uh, uh."
12: Yoshiwara Courtesan with Samurai Customer
A courtesan and an enthusiastic samurai customer make love while surrounded by gorgeous robes and furnishings. A kimono rack with a kosode draped over it is at left, in the background is a folding screen decorated with chrysanthemums, and at right is a portable tobacco set. The customer reveals his samurai rank by equating her value to his payment in
koku of rice: "I feel more gratified than if I'd conquered a land worth a million koku of rice. As long as no one comes, I want to stay just like this." She urges him to focus: "Please, stop babbling and start going in earnest. Oh, yes, that's it." He replies: "Ah, hold it up a little stronger. You're blessed with a true high quality vagina. It's so superb I can't even express it with words."
Kikugawa Eizan, 1787-1867
Selections from the Brocade Quarter
complete set of twelve oban prints: with lavish color and metallic printing, ca. 1815
each oban yoko-e approximately 10 1/8 by 14 5/8 in., 25.7 by 37.2 cm
Eizan was the son of a fan and artificial flower manufacturer in Edo. He studied with Kano school and Shijo school teachers, and was also greatly influenced by Hokusai (cat. no. 39), but his primary stimulus was Utamaro (cat. nos. 37-38). Like Utamaro, during his time Eizan became the leading designer of bijin-ga (images of beautiful women), establishing a distinctive style identified as eizangao ('Eizan face').
This luxurious set of prints exemplifies Eizan's ability to balance composition with seemingly overwhelming use of color and pattern. Although the central erotic element is still emphasized, he simultaneously seduces the eye with other visual pleasures.
Fukuda, Ukiyo-e no higi ga, 1978, pp. 107-110
Hayakawa, Forbidden Images- Erotic Art from Japan's Edo Period, 2002 (dialogue translations)
Uhlenbeck and Winkel, Japanese Erotic Fantasies: Sexual Imagery of the Edo Period, 2005, pp. 152-153 (nos. 8 and 12)
Calza, Poem of the Pillow and Other Stories, 2010, pp. 405-413
Scholten Japanese Art is open Monday - Friday, and some Saturdays by appointment only
Contact Katherine Martin at
(212) 585-0474 or email
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site last updated
May 5, 2021
Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475
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