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Fukagawa geisha in Japanese prints

by ainaoyama

Kitao Shigemasa (1739-1820), the owner of one of a few Fukagawa geisha portraits in print was the son of an Edo publisher and bookseller. Shigemasa was certainly one of the leading print designers of his time. Yet his works are less familiar than they deserve to be, given their obvious charm and finely balanced compositions, often of a notable simplicity.

Among Shigemasa’s masterpieces are a number of full-length portraits of geisha. This format print depicts two geisha from Fukagawa, an area outside of Edo city magistrates southeast of the Sumida River. Fukagawa was a very popular, unlicensed pleasure district, the best of those in competition with the government-sanctioned.

Fukagawa courtesans worked under yobidashi (a “summoning” arrangement) whereby they were sent to service their customers at restaurants, teahouses, and inns near the river. They were known for their own brand of style and sophistication. Fukagawa geisha, such as the two portrayed by Shigemasa, was also known as Tatsumi geisha, considered especially seductive and accomplished in the arts of dance, musicianship, and conversation. As in Shigemasa’s print, they typically wore understated kimono and usually went barefoot, unlike other geisha who usually wear the tabi (a type of split-socks).

This design is from the series Toto no bijin no zu (“Pictures of Beauties from the East”), circa late 1770s.

Famous Fukagawa Geisha in Art

by  Xu Zhengqing

“Snow at Fukagawa”, is one of three famous paintings by Kitagawa Utamoro who Utamaro was a master of Ukiyo-e painting, a genre that depicts the pleasures of the early Edo period’s (1603-1868). This one particularly shows the scene which geisha from Fukagawa red-light district in Edo with women who prepare food enjoying the snow together.

We can see from the painting, Utamoro clearly displays the actions of each person lively.  One woman carries succulent fish on a laden, red earthenware tray. Another plays with a cat and child at her feet, another plays a shamisen—the three-stringed Japanese instrument. Nearby, a woman applies makeup while looking in a hand mirror as, off-to-the side, another totes a pile of laundry quietly offstage.

“Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara,” by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806) Japan, Edo period, ca. 1793.

“Moon at Shinagawa” (also known as “Moonlight Revelry at Dozō Sagami”) Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806) Japan, Edo period, ca. 1788.

During the Edo period(1603-1868), a woman’s hairstyle, makeup and clothing show her social status.In this painting, Utamoro captures many of the fashion trends of that period. It’s really easy to see the difference between two women in the picture. The woman on the left hand side who is in the forefront holding a child, has a teeth black. Dyeing one’s teeth black is a kind of Japan traditional culture. It is popular particular in women because of the beauty of the contrast between blackened teeth and a white face. And we can know that this woman is married because of her black teeth. These details make this painting becoming a masterpiece.

Reference: Into Japan

Fukagawa Geisha and Tea Ceremony – Sado

by A Rim You

As the first woman known to have called herself Geisha was a prostitute from Fukagawa, Fukagawa distirct’s Geisha culture has developed more than other districts.

Among those various culture, tea ceremony is one of the most famous geisha culture in Fukagawa. Some Fukagawa geisha choose to study tea ceremony as part of their arts and do body training with traditional dresses.

Drinking green tea is a symbolic culture of Japan. During the Nara period (710-7994) tea plants were grown in Japan and mainly consumed by priests and noblemen as medicine. Tea was very rare and highly valuable from the Nara period to the Heian period (794-1192). Since the Muromachi period, Japanese developed their tea culture by creating tea ceremony as green tea became more accessible. This was a brief history of Japanese tea culture.

The tea ceremony is commonly performed by Geisha at the beginning of their 5 year apprenticeship. The art of its performance is called sado. This tea ceremony shows both Japanese aesthetics and cultural value of respect for the guest.

Sado does not limited to the tea itself, but instead, is composed of a range of stages: artwork, flower arranging, interior decorating and calligraphy. There are three main paths of sado:

  • Omotesenke
  • Urasenke
  • Musha no kojisenke

To fully master the elements of tea ceremony, it commonly takes almost 2 years to complete.

There are numerous steps for preparation of tea ceremony. Simple steps are:

  1. Opening the door
  2. Presenting the sweets
  3. Bringing in tea utensils
  4. Greetings and clothes
  5. Cleaning the Chashaku
  6. Remove Futa from the Kama
  7. Cleaning the Chasen
  8. Warming the chawan
  9. Scoop Macha into the Chawan

As shown above, tea ceremony is a very methodical, slow and meaningful activity where every hand gesture and movement of the utensils must be focused.

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