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Two couples in a brothel - ROM2015_14592_4


Two couples in a brothel

Medium:9-colour woodblock prints on paper
Geography: Japan
Date: 1769 - 1770
Period: Edo period
Yokoe 20.5 x 31.6 cm
Object number: 926.18.121
Credit Line: Sir Edmund Walker Collection
Not on view
DescriptionTwo couples are depicted in adjoining rooms connected by an open sliding door. The young woman and adult man in the rear room are covered by the blanket of a kotatsu table. Both are on the floor, and the girl plucks the man’s facial hair, an act of intimacy. The couple in the room in the foreground consists of a wakashu and a woman who looks slightly more mature and older than the other girl. This woman seems to be rather aggressively pulling the wakashu into the room from an entrance on the left, while the wakashu is coyly playing with a folding fan in his right hand. To the right are a teakettle on a metal hibachi, a tobacco pipe and pouch, and the three-volume picture book Ehon Chiyo no matsu, by Harunobu himself. This image can be read in two different ways: 1) the adult male is the father of the wakashu, and has brought his son to a brothel for the first time; or 2) the wakashu is the adult male’s lover, and his ani-bun (“older brother”) has brought him to the brothel. The word “Sumiyoshi” can be seen at the entrance. According to David Waterhouse, there was a brothel called the Sumiyoshi-ya in Sakai. However, this print is most likely depicting a place in the New Yoshiwara. The Old Yoshiwara, which burned down in 1657, was on Sumiyoshi-machi. Another possible clue about this location is the noren curtain with the crest of paulownia (kiri). By at least the 1830s, there was a “rear tea house” (ura-jaya) called Kiri-ya. “Rear tea houses” were places where men secretly had sexual relations with geisha entertainers, who were not allowed to steal customers from prostitutes. The print is assumed to be a part of an erotic album.
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