Shinmachi ("New Quarters": 新町) was Osaka's official licensed pleasure quarter. It was adjacent to the Nagabori canal, which separated Shinmachi from a larger area to the southeast called Shimanouchi (lit., "inside the island": 島の内), the city's largest unlicensed pleasure quarter. Shimanouchi was, in turn, on the opposite (north) side of the Dôtonbori (Dôton Canal: 道頓堀) where a narrow street (on the south side) constituted Osaka's theater district. Both Shinmachi and Shimanouchi hosted nerimono sugata (costume parades: ねり物姿). These parades featured waitresses, geisha, and courtesans performing skits or pantomimes about well-known figures from contemporary society, theater, history, and legend. In this colorful pageant, the women were often accompanied by decorative floats carrying musicians and dancers.
Prints depicting women of the nerimono represent an important exception to the tenacious focus on kabuki for which kamigata-e are known. These visual records of participants in the parades offer glimpses into alternative entertainments beyond the kabuki and puppet theaters, and clues regarding what the citizens of nineteenth-century Osaka found fascinating and enjoyable. The nerimono were large-scale fantasies within a special world of asobi (play or amusement: 遊) where pleasure women, geishas, teahouse waitresses, musicians, actors, theater patrons, and bon vivants eagerly sought escape from everyday life.
We know of only six designs in this series of Shinmachi nerimono from 8/1825. A banzuke (event program: 番付) has survived that depicts a much larger number of women, all named in cartouches, but whether ichimai-e (single-sheet prints) were ever published for more than six is unknown. The set seems to contain one triptych, one diptych, and a single design. The first three sheets identified below all share a roundel inset as a common design element, and all three women are geisha — thus they arguably form a triptych. Both sheets of the purported diptych display floral cartouches, and both women are courtesans. The final sheet with Umematsu of Shiki may or may not be a single design, but so far no other companion design is known.
The women who performed in the 8/1825 nerimono in Shinmachi were (right to left, top to bottom):
- Geisha Misaki of the Naka-Ôgiya (中扇や [の] みさき) as a baton bearer (tsuemochi: 杖持); the roundel depicts nerimono festival taikomochi (drum-carriers: 太鼓持 or 幇滞) with a very large drum (ô-daiko: 大太鼓) bearing a tomoe 巴 design.
- Geisha Rikino of the Wataya (わたや [の] りきの) as a Chinese court lady (morokoshi kanjo: 唐土官女); the roundel depicts Yang Guifei and Emperor Gensô.
- Geisha Hinadori of the Naka-Ôgiya (中扇屋 [の] 雛とり) as a sasara player (sasarasuri: さゝらすり); the roundel depicts nerimono festival participants.
- Umematsu of Shiki (紙喜ノ梅松) as a musician playing a drum (sakibayashi: 先はやし)
- Courtesan Agemaki-dayû of the Naka-Kineya (中杵屋 [の] 揚巻太夫) as a dengaku priest (Dengaku bôzu: でんかく法師)
- Courtesan Hinasaku-dayû of the Nishi-Ôgiya (西扇や [の] 雛咲太夫) as a shirabyôshi (白拍子) dancer (eboshigimi: ゑほし君)
A few additional explanations will illuminate some of the nerimono designs.
- The roundel inset for the Rikino design portrays the most frequently illustrated Chinese beauty in Japan — Yang Guifei (Jp: Yôkihi; 719–756), from 745–756 the official and favorite consort of the sixth Tang emperor, Xuanzong (also called Tang Minghuong; Jp: Gensô Kôtei; 685–762). Yang’s story, known for centuries in Japan, stood as a morality lesson warning against sexual over-indulgence and neglect of duty in pursuit of pleasure. Yang Guifei and the Emperor spent countless nights in revelry to the great harm of the empire. He was forced to abdicate and she was executed. Yang Guifei became a popular subject in ukiyo-e, and we may assume that Rikino presents a modern reminder of the classic beauty.
- A sasara (簓 or さゝら) is a percussive, rhythmic musical instrument composed of a split-bamboo "whisk" (the upper part sectioned into strands) and a notched stick, played by scraping or clapping together. The sasara is shown clearly in the design for Hinadori.
- Dengaku (field music: 田楽) is music and dance derived from ancient rituals connected with rice planting that evolved into entertainments. The movements of the dancers mimick the motion of agricultural laborers. Priests who performed alone or in troupes as dancing musicians at shrines and temple festivals are called dengaku hôshi (田楽法師). As can be seen in the print portraying Agemaki-dayû, the priests would use a binzasara (編 木, 鬢編木 , 拍板 or 板ざさら) or noisemaker made of small wooden sticks tied together or attached to a staff (or in this case, a bamboo pole).
- The courtesan-dancer Hinasaku-dayû performs as a shirabyôshi (literally "white rhythm": 白拍子). Early shirabyôshi were professional dancer-courtesans or itinerant prostitutes of the late Heian period to the sixteenth century who often worked among the upper classes by presenting a dance in a masculine costume of court robes and eboshi (lit., "bird hat": (烏帽子).
As far as we can determine, in addition to our set of six prints (acquired one-by-one over many years), only the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFAB reference below) owns the complete group (from the famed William Sturgis Bigelow Collection).
*** Our group includes a remarkably fresh Hinasaku-dayû sheet, with three others (Rikino, Umematsu, and Agemaki-dayû) not far behind in the preservation of their colors. Decidedly rare, unquestionably charming, and technically impressive, this Shinmachi nerimono set by Yoshikuni represents a not-to-be-missed opportunity to collect this notable assemblage.
References: WKK, pp. 181-183, nos. 156-161; TWOP, p. 255, nos. 388 and 389abc (Philadelphia Museum of Art Acc #1969-208-367 and #1969-208-368abc); MFAB, acc #11.36275-78; Kitagawa, Hiroko: Bosuton bijutsukan shozô Kamigata-e mokuroku (List of Kamigata prints in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: ボストン美術館所蔵上方絵目録). Kansai Daigaku [Kansai University, 関西大学], Naniwa - Osaka bunka isan-gaku kenkyû sentâ (Naniwa - Osaka Cultural Heritage Research Center 2006 (なにわ•大阪文化遺産学研究センター 2006), reprint 2007, p. 124