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Hirosada (廣貞)

A surimono celebrating the maiko Kotora of the Itami-ya becoming a geiko.
Gosôtei Hirosada
No artist seal)
(H x W)
Oversize surimono nishiki-e
39.1 x 59.5 cm
Excellent (privately issued surimono with lavishly applied metallics
Excellent color and very good overall condition (unbacked; a few restored wormholes, minor creasing, vertical centerfold (flattened)
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: HSD23 


A maiko ("child dancer": 舞子 or 舞妓) was a term for apprentice geiko ("arts child": 芸子) in Osaka-Kyoto. The equivalent fledgling geisha ("accomplished person: 芸者) in Edo was called a hangyoku ("half-jewel": 半玉). The maiko or hangyoku were as young as nine years of age during the Edo, Meiji, Taishô, and early Showa periods, but today they usually begin their training at around fifteen.

Kai awase (shell matching: 貝合) or kai asobi ("shell game: 貝遊) was a popular amusement originally played in aristocratic circles in which players would match the half-shells of 360 clams or bivalves, one with an inscribed poem and another with a corresponding painting. The game was especially popular with women of the Edo period, and Japanese artists were fond of incorporating the imagery of kai awase into their designs for prints and paintings. Kai awase has also long had sexual overtones. The clam shell was considered an erotic feminine symbol, and in Japanese slang, kai awase means "putting the shells together" or lesbian intercourse.


As cherry blossoms fall, the geiko float red-lacquer sake cups down a winding stream. The poem written on the outside of the half shell is meant, of course, to match up with the painted half shell in the manner of kai awase.

The publisher's seal is a distinct curiosity, as it is printed upside down from its earlier appearance in a series titled Naniwa Shinmanouchi nerimono (Costume parade in Shimanouchi, Osaka), circa 1828 (some publication indicate c. 1833), with designs contributed by artists such as Shigeharu, Kunihiro, and Yoshikuni.

As far as we can determine, this exquisitely printed and large surimono (slightly bigger than a double ôban) is an unrecorded design, making it exceptionally rare among the works of Hirosada.