Hokusai - Ehon Sumida Gawa - Prints 3-14 and 3-15

SumidaGawa3-15 SumidaGawa3-14
3-15 The end of the year
at Yoshiwara (continued)
3-14 The end of the year
at Yoshiwara

This is the second place in the three Ehon Sumida Gawa picture books where Hokusai interrupts his otherwise continuous presentation of views of both banks of the Sumida river.

After the detour through the villages or districts of Imado, Hashiba, and San’ya, Hokusai’s journey finally ends in the New Yoshiwara (新吉原), the licensed pleasure quarters of Edo. Originally - before 1657 - these pleasure quarters were located near Nihonbashi, and it was only after the great Mereiki fire of 1657 that they were relocated to the Asakusa district. Hence the name “New” (新 or Shin) Yoshiwara.

In print 3-14 a group of people are performing a sacred dance called kagura - the danser wearing a fox mask - to celebrate the New Year. In his right hand the danser is holding a gohei, a wand with two zigzag shaped folded papers called shide. The wand is waved at a slow rhythmic pace, but with a little force so that the shide strips make a rustling noise on each pass of the wand. On the left of print 3-15 we see a courtesan and her apprentice. In the center of the two prints, the front of the house has already been decorated with the traditional kadomatsu bamboo and pine decoration to celebrate the next New Year.

Here are some other prints depicting the Yoshiwara, again all designed by Utagawa Hiroshige. The first one is a winter view displaying the last stretch of the Nihon embankment as well as the road leading up to the Yoshiwara’s entrance gate:

The Yoshiwara in winter by Hiroshige

Snowy Morning in the Yoshiwara
from the series “Famous Places in the Eastern Capital”
by Utagawa Hiroshige (ca. 1832-1838).

the second one is a night time spring view showing the Yoshiwara and its entrance gate from the outside:

The Yoshiwara in spring by Hiroshige

Cherry Blossoms at Night on Naka-no-chō in the Yoshiwara
from the series “Famous Places in the Eastern Capital”
by Utagawa Hiroshige (ca. 1832-38).

and the third, fourth and fifth print form a triptych with an aerial spring view not only showing Yoshiwara’s entrance gate in the bottom left hand corner but also providing a pretty good idea of the lay-out of its quarters:

A triptych of the Yoshiwara in winter by Hiroshige

Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom in the Third Month along the Five Streets of the New Yoshiwara
from the series “Famous Views of Edo”
by Utagawa Hiroshige (1830s).

In the end the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters were officially closed down in March 1958.

Starting on the dawn of New Year’s day and ending on the eve of the beginning of the next New Year, Hokusai’s journey - providing an (almost!) continuous view of the banks of the Sumida river - has thus taken a full year to accomplish.

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