This print features a night scene of the main street of the Shin-Yoshiwara (“New Yoshiwara”), the Naka-no-chō (literally “Middle Street”), which spanned approximately sixty-feet in width. The blossoming cherry-trees, enclosed by a bamboo fence, in the foreground indicate it is springtime. The blooms, combined with the and the full moon, make it an ideal occasion for romance and merrymaking.
The gate found to the right of the print marks the entrance to another street, the Edo-chō (“Edo Street.”); the two red lanterns attached to the gate bear its name. These lanterns functions as clues that the establish the scene’s specific location. We are in the northeast section of the Yoshiwara. To the right, out of sight, is the Great Gate, the single entrance to the pleasure quarters. Beyond it is a moat that isolates the Shin-Yoshiwara from the rest of the city. The two-story buildings to the right that are lit up with lanterns (chouchin) are teahouses. Their individual names are written on vertical signposts, which are planted at the left-end of the two buildings. Several male merrymakers, as well as one courtesan, look down at the procession below. Two high-ranking courtesans (oiran), followed by two child attendants (kamuro) each, promenade through the street.
Around 1749 and after, blossoming cherry trees would be planted along the Naka-no-chō on the 25th day of the second lunar month. This was done to prepare for the Yoshiwara’s famous annual cherry blossom festival, during which courtesans would promenade along the streets as an admiring crowd looked on. The last day of the third month, the cherry trees would be uprooted and discarded, a telling example of the values of the Floating World (ukiyo). Carefree extravagance was held up as one of the essential qualities of chicness (iki).
It should be noted that the term the Shin-Yoshiwara (“New Yoshiwara”) is also more widely known as simply the Yoshiwara. The Moto-Yoshiwara (“Original Yoshiwara”) was razed in the Meireki fire of 1657, after which the Shin-Yoshiwara was built on the northern outskirts of the city.
This print is one of several in the series that illustrated the famous springtime promenade in the Yoshiwara.
- Leah Justin-Jinich, Summer 2014