Skip to main content

Looking Cool: a Geisha in the fifth or sixth year of Meiji

Looking Cool

Looking Cool: a Geisha in the fifth or sixth year of Meiji
Suzushisô Meiji goroku nen irai geigi no fûzoku

Colour print from woodblocks with gloss black (tsuyazumi) and imitation woodgrain (itame mokuhan).
Ôban format.
Block-cutter:Wada hori Yû.
Publisher: Tsunashima Kamekichi. First edition, printed 04/05/1888.
Keyes 503-20; Stevenson 24

From the series Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners (Fûzoku sanjûnisô).

The geisha (‘skilled performer’) is seated in a pleasure boat wearing a robe of silk gauze (ro) through which we can see her body, an effect of virtuoso block carving. She is presumably in private, possibly intimate company, and the sensual elements of the image also contribute to the sense of ‘Cool’: her erect nipples, the breeze suggested by her stray hair and the waves outside.

As professional entertainers, Geisha were traditionally forbidden from having sex with customers (this was reserved for licensed prostitutes), but in the Meiji period lower class geisha were allowed an additional licence permitting them to offer sexual favours as well. Around the date of the setting of this print (1872/3), the government emancipated geisha from their legal commitment to pay off their indenture, and the word geisha was officially changed to geigi, although the meaning remained unchanged. In contrast to prostitutes successful geisha could achieve an unusual degree of independence. Emancipated geisha, or those who had found a patron to pay off their indenture, could retire and marry: many became prosperous housewives in the Meiji period.

Given by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam, 2004

P.3-2004

University of Cambridge Museums logo
Arts Council England Logo
Research England logo
The Technology Partnership logo
Brewin Dolphin Logo