Women and East Asian Art

Ichikawa and Nakayama – Kabuki

 

 

 

The woodcut was done by Toshusai Sharaku (active 1794-1795)[1] during the Edo period in Japan (1602-1868).[2][3]  It depicts a female and male character of a Kabuki play. The two stand underneath an umbrella as the man towers over the woman, owning control. Often, Kabuki theater was meant to portray a moral story and pulled from Confucian values of duty,[4] which declared that women were to serve the man.[5] This, along with the exceedingly patriarchal society of the Edo period, falls in line with Sharaku’s woodcut of a cultural rendition that encourages women to yield to the man.

The only colors used seem to be shades of a light orange. The female character seems to be halted in her tracks. Her male counterpart looks down at her as her arm swings away from her body and her head looks down. Additionally, the male body curves up and around over the female’s. Their clothes drape and fold around their bodies, outlined by bold black lines. Black hair is detailed by fine white lines. Great detail is put in the emblem on the woman’s right arm, as well as in her hair and fingers. The background is speckled with mica,[6] creating a shimmering effect. Toshusai was known for this technique before it was outlawed by the government.[7]

Women were very restricted during the Edo period in Japan and often treated as tremendously subordinate to their husbands,[8] thus it would be rational for theater to portray the same. Both the woodcut and the rendition it depicts, urges women to be subordinate to men through the gendered dynamics portrayed between the male and female characters.

[1] “Tōshūsai Sharaku,” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., May 24, 2018), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Toshusai-Sharaku)

[2] The Trout Gallery (Dickinson College), accessed November 24, 2019, http://collections.troutgallery.org/Obj14611?sid=6963&x=245436)

[3] “Edo Period,” Life for Japanese Women (Weebly), accessed November 24, 2019, https://lifeofwomenjapan.weebly.com/edo-period.html)

[4] “Kabuki,” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., November 21, 2019), https://www.britannica.com/art/Kabuki)

[5] Patricia Ebrey, “Women in Traditional China,” AsiaSociety.org (Asia Society), accessed November 24, 2019, https://asiasociety.org/education/women-traditional-china)

[6] Joan Stanley-Baker, 192, Japanese Art, 3rd ed. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2014))

[7] “Tōshūsai Sharaku,” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., May 24, 2018), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Toshusai-Sharaku)

[8] “Edo Period,” Life for Japanese Women (Weebly), accessed November 24, 2019, https://lifeofwomenjapan.weebly.com/edo-period.html)

 

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