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Asakusa Rice Fields and the Torinomachi Festival

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About the Art

Hiroshige takes us to the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters on their single busiest day of the year.

As we look out from the second story of a teahouse (brothel) however, the noise and activity seem a world away. In the distance a procession celebrating the Torinomachi Festival walks across the rice fields.

On this day the Yoshiwara was open to everyone, including ordinary women. It was also a special day on which each courtesan was required by tradition to take a customer—or to pay the fee to the brothel owner if she failed.

The courtesans accoutrements and other items on the floor hint at the unseen. A client has probably just left the room, with the bowl of water, towel on the windowsill and creeping out from behind the screen are tissue papers politely termed "paper for the honourable act”.

The cat on the windowsill turns its back to the sensuality of the business behind the screen and looks out towards the festival. Given the late stage of Hiroshige’s life when he made this print (in his last few years, after he had taken the Buddhist tonsure and “retired from life”), we might read some of the artist’s own sensibility into this feline. Others suggest the cat represents the courtesan herself.

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