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Edo Pop Pick: Courtesan as Komachi

Posted on by Minneapolis Institute of Arts

In celebration of our newest show, Edo Pop, each week, we are giving you a taste of the sensuality, fashion, and decadent entertainment of young urban sophisticates of Japan’s pre-modern era. If you haven’t experienced Edo Pop yet (or even if you already have), stop on by the MIA!  Read more about the exhibition here.

Just like our beautiful mid-November weather, Ono no Komachi’s enjoyment is fleeting. Mono-no-aware.

Chøbunsai Eishi, 1756–1829, Courtesan as Komachi, From the series Disguised as the Six Immortal Poets, ca. 1796. Color woodblock print (nishiki-e).

This bust portrait is rare among Eishi’s print designs, which typically are full-length figures, seated or standing. In this series, Eishi depicted courtesans in the guise of Japan’s Six Immortal Poets. This woman imitates the élan of Ono no Komachi, a beautiful 9th-century poet who cruelly rejected all suitors and spent her old age in solitude and squalor. Hence, Komachi came to symbolize mono-no-aware, the melancholy awareness that all enjoyment is fleeting. Eishi’s woman wears her hair in the long, flowing style of a Heian-period court woman but with the decorative pins used by contemporary courtesans. She delicately holds a spray of cherry blossoms, also a symbol of short-lived beauty. Two cartouches, in the shape of utagaruta (poetry cards), bear the name of the series and an apt poem by Komachi.

Like cherry blossoms after a long spring rain,

beautiful colors quickly fade.

While I have vainly been seeing

time passing by me

and the world.

Read more about this print!

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