Kitagawa Utamaro, Parody of Narihira's Journey to the East, a triptych of colour woodblock prints

Japan, about AD 1797-98

This is probably intended as a 'parody picture' (mitate-e) which reworks an episode from Epsiode 9 of Ise monogatari (Tales of Ise), 'Journey to the East' (Azuma-kudari). The question is, who is actually performing the parody?

The two upper figures on the centre and right sheets clearly impersonate, respectively, the courtier-poet Ariwara no Narihira, the main protagonist of the Tales, and a standard-bearing retainer. Otherwise, however, the hairstyles of the figures are clearly feminine, though each either wears or carries some kind of man's court head-gear.

The scene may simply be an imagined parody of the famous scene from classical literature, populated by Utamaro's habitually idealized young men and women. More specifically, though, it is possible that the scene records one of the costume parades perfomed each autumn in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter as part of the Niwaka Festival. Male and female geisha in fanciful costumes would process around the quarter on floats or with other elaborate props. Female geisha would sometimes dress as men for these events.

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More information


T. Clark, 100 views of Mount Fuji (London, The British Museum Press, 2001)


Height: 369.000 mm (approx.)
Width: 249.000 mm (approx.)

Museum number

Asia JA 1906.12-10.0364(1-3)



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