Artist: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839 – 1892)
Title: 10. Looking Feminine – the appearance of a ‘castle-toppler’ of the Tempo era
Series: Thirty-Two Aspects of Customs and Manners
Publisher: Tsunajima Kamekichi
A print from Yoshitoshi’s series ‘Thirty-Two Aspects of Customs and Manners’ which chronologically depicts different women from the Kansei era (1789-1801) to the Meiji era (1860-1912). The Kansei era was marked by reactionary reforms put in place to rectify the perceived excesses of the Japanese shogunate, limiting trade with other nations by enforcing a stricter closed door policy. In contrast, the Meiji era saw Japan opening up to the West and even adopting some of its culture and politics. Yoshitoshi interestingly depicts this dramatically eventful history through women of various background and sentiment.
The lady depicted in this image is described as a keisei, or “castle-toppler”. The name refers to high-ranking courtesans able to captivate powerful lords though their beauty and cause them to neglect their official duties. Her decadent robes are a clear signifier of her wealth and eminent position. On first publication, the design was printed with brass dust to make her appear even more luxurious, however this has now darkened due to the natural process of oxidation. Yoshitoshi shows off the opulence of the Tempo era courtesans who were able again to indulge in luxuries after the weakening conservative reforms of the Tokugawa government.