Beauties of Yoshiwara


Seirō Bijin Awase (Beauties of Yoshiwara) is one of the finest multicolored woodblock printed books in Japan. It was published in 1770. The book depicts 166 courtesans of the Yoshiwara, the pleasure quarter in Edo (present-day Tokyo), with the names of the courtesans and the brothels where they worked, with a haiku (a short poem) in the background of each illustration. The work consists of five sections in five chapters. The original title slip on which the book title and the volume title were printed is attached to the center of the front cover. Each chapter is compiled according to the subject of the haiku: volume 1 for sakura (cherry blossoms), volume 2 for hototogisu (little cuckoo), volume 3 for tsuki (the moon), volume 4 for momiji (the beautifully tinted autumn leaves), and volume 5 for yuki (snow). At the end of volume 5 is the colophon, which shows the publication date, the publisher's name, and the engraver's name. Although the designer's name is not directly mentioned, Suzuki Harunobu (circa 1725−70) is mentioned in the preface and is thought to have designed the illustrations. Harunobu was a leading ukiyo-e artist in the Meiwa era (1764−71) of the Edo period, known for his skill in depicting beautiful young women. In addition to his paintings, he produced a number of works of printed art and is said to have been the pioneer of nishiki-e (multicolored woodblock prints of ukiyo-e).

Last updated: February 26, 2014