Because the ladies of the Yoshiwara and the teahouses
were of such great interest to the Edo consumers, they were favorite subjects
of woodblock artists, who would draw their portraits in various complimentary
guises, or depict them strolling among the citizens. They were also part
of the imagination of popular authors of novels, poetry, and plays for
puppets or kabuki. As the art of the onnagata developed, the ladies themselves
would imitate the actors who imitated them onstage. It may be difficult
to tell, except from the literary context, whether a particular image is
meant to portray an oiran, an onnagata, or a literary character who combines
aspects of both. Although the sex of the "geisha dolls" is usually assumed
to be female, it might be helpful to imagine them rather as belonging to
this cross-gendered fantasy world.
This delicate creature is an oiran preparing for a customer,
as depicted by Suzuki Haronubu in a woodblock illustration to The
Elegant Amorous Adventures of Maneemon, around 1765. Note the tiny
hands and features.
This lady with a bull is not a lady but the Kabuki actor
Segawa Ugiro as depicted by Buncho (1772). The actor's forelock was shaved,
by law, in a specifically masculine style, but was usually
covered onstage by a purple cap. Note how similar the hairstyle and clothing
style, and even the tiny hands, to those of Haronobu's oiran above.
|This lovely creature, in a woodblock by Torii Kiyomitsu,
would seem to be an oiran: the elegant but elaborate hairstyle, the rich
clothing and huge brocade obi bow are beautifully rendered--though her
feet are bare. But the 1761 portrait is in fact of Segawa Kikunojo II,
in the kabuki role of a young girl, "like a slender twig of plum blossoms,"
in love. For this poetic rendering, there is no hint of the actor's shaven
forelock. The artist seems to have combined the elements of the maiden
in the story with the actor's presence and the voluptuous fashions of the
Yoshiwara to create a fantasy image that is both male and female, virgin