Just across the canal from Osaka's Dôtonbori theater district was an area called Shimanouchi (島之内), the city's
largest unofficial pleasure quarter. Shimanouchi hosted an annual parade early each summer featuring waitresses, geisha, and courtesans dressed in costumes while performing skits or pantomimes about well-known figures from contemporary society, theater, history, and legend. In this colorful pageant the women were accompanied by decorative floats carrying musicians and dancers.
In the summer of 1836 a collaborative series of prints was published, designed by Sadahiro, Hokuei, Sadanobu I, Shigeharu, and Hokuju to commemorate the parade.
Kamiagata-e are overwhelmingly images of actors from the kabuki theater (yakusha-e, actor prints: 役者絵). Among the most notable exceptions are the bijinga (beautiful women prints: 美人画) inspired by various nerimono (costume parades) in Osaka and Kyoto. Prints commemorating the Gion nerimono parade in Kyoto enjoyed popularity around 1812-35, but their format was hososban and they were kappazuri-e (stencil prints: 合羽摺絵). Osaka got a late start and flirted only occasionally with the nerimono genre, but their efforts, like the Sadahiro featured here, were lavish ôban nishiki-e. The series Shinmanouchi nerimono ranks high among these productions.
In her pantomime for the costume parade, Matsuume (まつ梅) is dressed as a maid servant holding a leafy branch and a football suspended with a decorative red cord (presumably intended to aid in a more visible display during the parade). The deerskin ball was used in the ancient aristocratic game of kemari ("kick ball," 蹴鞠 or 蹴毬), in which four to eight male players kicked a ball aloft for as long as possible without allowing it to touch the ground.
The folding fan (ôgi, 扇) is inscribed with the subject (hashitame or "maid servant," はした女), while the upper part of the cartouche bears the series title, Shimanouchi nerimono ("Costume parade in Shimanouchi," 島之内ねり物). The lower part of the cartouche gives the name of her establishment as the "Moritaya" (森田屋) — which is particularly interesting because in slightly later examples of this design, the name was changed to the "Nakamorishin" (中森新) — see references below. The publisher seal at the lower right includes Tenki's address: Osaka Shinsaibashi Hachimansuji (大坂心齋橋八幡筋).
It is probably coincidental, but the artist's seal reading "Sada" (貞) seems to be drawn in a anthropomorphic manner, as if "Sada" were walking along with Matsuume in the parade.
Note: The background is not soiled as the images may suggest (this is photographic artifact).
References: IKBYS-III, no. 93 (with Nakamorishin 中森新 inscription); SCH, no. 267; Museum of fine Arts Boston (2 impressions: 06.824.11 and 11.26585)