Asia Week 2024
↩ back to index

The Art of Japan

Kitagawa Utamaro - Twelve Hours in the Yoshiwara (Seirō jūni toki Tsuzuki) 1794-95 Provenance Vever

Utamaro showed the activities of the courtesans, or “yujō” in the Yoshiwara over a full day and night, from dawn-to-dawn by means of his 12 piece vertical oban series, Twelve Hours in the Yoshiwara (Seirō jūni toki Tsuzuki).  The set was lavishly printed and published by Tsutaya Jūzaburō in 1794-5.

Utamaro’s Twelve Hours series depicts the normal activities that a patron might observe whilst in the presence of his courtesan and goes further than other similar series by depicting the private activities of the yūjō before her customer arrives and after he has left.  In each of the twelve prints the hours and titles are written on the cartouche which is designed as a clock; with the hour written on the bell and the title extending down below the clock between the weights.  The floral designs on the clock often refer to the actual composition of the figures in the print or in some cases to a literary reference.

The set as a whole, according to Julie Nelson-Davis1, was designed to satiate the gaze of a male viewer.  The sequence of prints sketches a narrative whereby the activities of the women of the quarter have the main objective of satisfying their client.  When the presence of the male client is only implied, this leaves a space for the viewer of the prints to imagine themself as an observer, a voyeurs or perhaps a participant in the scene depicted in an individual print.  Nelson-Davis postulates that the compositions and their subject intimate that he, whose signature is printed on the surface of the images is just such a man for who else but one so well acquainted with the customs of the Yoshiwara could render it visible?  The signature stands in for the presence of Utamaro, as metaphor of his physical presence, and is cumulatively reiterated through the set to delineate him as the ultimate insider in the world of the Yoshiwara. 2

Women viewers may have seen and appreciated the scenes, but the pictures operate according to the terms of a man’s desire.  The figures in each scene are organized to encourage the viewer to imagine himself before the picture; in each, the objects of his gaze are turned to three-quarter view so that he may view them all the better, and his presence as a voyeur is never directly challenged.  In fact, each of the twelve scenes, a compositional element or an object implies the woman’s desire for a male presence, either in an oblique literary reference in the cartouche, or directly such as the additional element such as a letter from a lover.

  1. Julie Nelson-Davis, Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty, Revised and Expanded Second Edition, Reaktion Books, 2021.  P.131
  2. Ibid. at p. 151

+ gallery info   |   + contact gallery

The Mark Hotel
25 East 77th Street, Suite 215
Fri. 15th thru Sun. 17th - 10 - 6

 
1 Hour of the Rat 12 PM
#1 Hour of the Rat 12 PM
2 Hour of the Ox 2 AM
#2 Hour of the Ox 2 AM
3 Hour of the Tiger 4 AM
#3 Hour of the Tiger 4 AM
4 Hour of the Hare 6 AM
#4 Hour of the Hare 6 AM
5 Hour of the Dragon 8 AM
#5 Hour of the Dragon 8 AM
6 Hour of the Snake 10 AM
#6 Hour of the Snake 10 AM
7 Hour of the Horse 12 AM
#7 Hour of the Horse 12 AM
Hour of the Sheep 2 PM
#8 Hour of the Sheep 2 PM
9 Hour of the Monkey 4PM
#9 Hour of the Monkey 4PM
10 Hour of the Cock 6 PM
#10 Hour of the Cock 6 PM
11 Hour of the Dog 8 PM
#11 Hour of the Dog 8 PM
12 Hour of the Boar
#12 Hour of the Boar, 10 PM
Asia Week New York Association, Inc.
P.O. Box 2091, New York, NY 10021
2024 Presenting Sponsor
Songtsam
Asia Week New York Association, Inc. is a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade membership organization registered with the state of New York.