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Street scene in the pleasure quarter of Edo Japan

Discover the cast of characters in a woodblock print of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter in Edo Japan (present-day Tokyo). Created by Asian Art Museum.

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Video transcript

this hand colored print by okumura masanobu depicts the cast of characters one might encounter in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter melinda takeuchi professor in the Department of east asian languages and cultures and the department of art history at stanford university you see women playing their instruments and smoking behind the grill of bars the old guy with his wonderful split trousers called hakama leaning on a cane listening to the shamisen music the squatting peddler the woman ordering whatever it is that he has to offer and then in the foreground is a procession of a beautiful high-ranking courtesan attended by her to matching clothed attendance the markings on her robe white patterns on a black background refer to classical Chinese calligraphy rubbings it is trying to inject a high-class flavor into what is basically sex for sale the little peddler at the bottom wearing a basket hat he is selling little pop-up images that are inserted into little tubes of bamboo you can pull a certain part of it and up will come an image of the Buddha of the Western Paradise also present is a samurai who you can distinguish by the long and short swords at his waist attempting to conceal his identity under a sedge or basket hat this practice reflected the conflicting social rules decreed by the government of the Edo period from sixteen fifteen to eighteen sixty eight if said ambivalent attitude of the shogunate it's okay to go to the pleasure quarters but just don't go too often don't be indiscreet don't get into trouble you