Saitō Shūho, Kishi empu ('Mr. Aoi's Chronicle of Charm'), a colour woodblock printed book

Published in Osaka, Japan
Edo period, 6th month, AD 1803

Courtesans on parade

This is the opening illustration for a three-volume series published in Osaka by Ueda Uhei and Nurakami Sakichi. The books show the annual customs and daily life of the pleasure quarters in a series of double-page spreads. This spread shows a parade of courtesans of the Shimmachi pleasure quarter in Osaka at New Year. They are on their way to the local temple of the deity Aizen Myō-ō. It was customary at New Year for courtesans to dress in the fine new kimonos given to them by their clients. The number of new kimonos they wore corresponded to the number of clients they had, so it was a time to display their popularity.

The spread is particularly striking, with the design crossing the page in a strong diagonal from right to left. The courtesans themselves are distinguished from their attendants by the obi sashes tied in the front, their elaborate hair-styles with combs and long hairpins and their impossibly high wooden geta (clogs). The umbrellas all bear a mallet-shaped mon (crest) of one of the houses of pleasure. From around 1805, two years after this work was published, Saitō Shūho (1769-1859) became an unadventurous painter in the academic style of the Kanō school.

Find in the collection online

More information


L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)


Height: 257.000 mm
Width: 182.000 mm

Museum number

Asia JA 1952.11-8.011 (1-3) (JIB 515A)



Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore