Utagawa Harusada (歌川春貞, act. 1848-68) should not be confused with Yasukawa Harusada II ( 二代目保川春貞) 1830-87, also known as Shunki (春暉) and Nobusada (信貞), a Kyoto artist.
Eight women and a young girl have taken on the dress and mannerisms of iconic figures or cultural types from the Kyoto region. The woman carrying firewood on her head is Ôharame (woman from Ôhara), one of the country women from the villages of Ôhara and Yase north of Kyoto, who delivered to the markets and streets of Kyoto bundles of firewood or charcoal carried on their heads or on the backs on oxen. They sometimes decorated the bundles with wild flowers and typically wore distinctive robes of tie-dyed ikat cotton with kyaha (leggings: 脚絆) while sporting tekkô (cloth armbands or fingerless gloves covering the back of the hand, wrist, and forearm: 手甲). Ôharame was a popular subject for fûzokuga (genre paintings depicting everyday life and popular pastimes: 風俗画) and shokunin zukushi (depictions of workers in various occupations: 職人尽) as depicted by painters of the Shijô and ukiyo-e schools. Theatrical versions of these women were also found in kabuki dance and drama.
The figure at the top left wears the expensive robes and kanzashi (ornamental hairpins: 簪) associated with an oiran (high-ranking courtesan: 花魁), while the woman at the front left wears courtly robes and eboshi (lit., "bird hat": 烏帽子) indicating she probably represents the famed "shining prince," Hikaru Genji ("Radiant Genji": 光源氏) of the Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji: 源氏物語), written by the Kyoto-born Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部) in the early eleventh century. The woman to Genji's left wearing a tan robe with flowering cherry is also from the Heian court, possibly one of Genji's many lovers. Note her kurai-boshi (位星), "class dot" or "rank mark," dotted make-up eyebrows above the natural eyebrows. Kurai-boshi indicated a high ranking in noble society. In Genji's time the natural eyebrows of nobility were shaved or plucked off. Only in kabuki were both the natural and artificial eyebrows used simultaneously, with the kurai-boshi applied over basic the white face makeup used by the actors. Thus the artist Harusada seems to have taken his cues from theatrical sources. Another term was tsukuri-mayu ("made eyebrows": 作眉), particularly when associated with the higher classes and with attendants at court or in the homes of Kyoto nobility. The little girl in the red robe, who also has kurai-boshi, appears to be a young attendant to the noblewoman.
The woman in the blue striped robe and holding a closed ôgi (folding fan: 扇) is of an entirely different class from the Heian court figures — she is the wife of a city merchant (note her shaved eyebrows, without kurai-boshi, of course). Thus her robes are far more modest in quality and design.
Harusada has succeeded admirably in portraying his beauties through the device of closely grouped figures and the harmonious display of varied dress and manners.