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About Hiroshige’s cat picture

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print | British Museum

Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival, from the Series One Hundred Scenic Spots of Edo

名所 江戸百景 浅草田圃 酉の町詣

めいしょえどひゃっけい あさくさたんぼ とりのまちもうで

安政4年(1857)/木版多色刷 大判錦絵

36.2×24.4cm

和訳↓

About Asakusa Torino ichi [

It is a festival of Otori Shrine held in November. It is still a popular festival in Tokyo where you wish for good luck and prosperous business, and buy rake(kumade) as lucky charm. 

In this picture; 

In the evening sky, a group of geese who all get along well and return to their home.

People heading to Asakusa Tori no Ichi (Torinoichi) on the path of the rice field.

You can also see the shadow of children holding hands with their mothers.

Young yūjo, prostitutes should also want to go to the festival with their mother and younger sisters/brothers .

But prostitutes are not allowed to leave Yoshiwara, a red light district.

The yujo is probably looking at the scenery outside just like the white cat.

She's hiding in the folding screen behind the cat. You know that because there is Okaishi, pocket papers on the tatami mat.

The kanzashi, hair accessories of the rake on the tatami mat must have been bought by a customer as a souvenir for her.

Even Mt. Fuji is hidden at the top of the mountain, just as a strikethrough was drawn in half from the middle.

On the wall, this is probably a picture of sparrows. It means the customers as “Edo-suzume, the stylish sparrows” that the users of red-light district who are familiar with every situations in Edo and talk about it.  I believe it’s a contrast between the birds in the sky and the birds in the cage.

 There is a song called Kagome Kagome, but that means "When will a prostitute be able to redeem herself to a millionaire?"

https://youtu.be/nFX4Li4Zp-E?si=fGX48pMe6KuSw6SU

"Kago me" means "cage woman".

Japanese people think it's a scary old song. I think it's simply because of they think it's something to do with grudge of young girls in the past. Crane and Turtle means happy marriage. 

Isn't this picture a compassion of Hiroshige for poor girls? It is a work of the year before Hiroshige Utagawa's death.


The girls were not working on their own will, but around the age of 10, they were sold to traffickers by their parents from poor farming villages, like Tohoku, northern Japan. They were unreasonablely forced to bear all kinds of stuffs, such as hair dressings and makeup, kimono, meals, medicine, and futon cleaning fee. It's just unfair. You couldn't quit freely until the age of 27, and you couldn't go anywhere. When you can quit, it had two choices: miuke, ransom, redeemed by a millionaire or die. In the nearby Jōkan-ji Temple, there is a big tomb of Yoshiwara prostitutes, and there are more than 20,000 women in it. The average age was 21 years old. " The kanji meanings of "Jō, kan" is "cleanse, holiday"..........

 


I liked this picture when I was 20, a college student, and I put it on my desk. At first, I just thought the cat was cute, but as I was looking at it, I felt that the message was strong, and I was thinking while looking at what the author was trying to tell us. After all, I felt that this represented Hiroshige's doubts about the red-light district, his compassion for the poor young prostitutes, and his desire to tell such things to the world. I believe it's his last message. 


I also listened to the Beatles a lot then, and I liked Paul McCartney's song called Blackbird. “Black Bird,” if you understand British English, it means clearly "black woman". In 1968, as a popular creator, you had to say it vaguely while there were various restraints. If you’re blamed, you can say, "This is just a song about a black bird."


In the same way, I think Hiroshige also represented a prostitute as a cat so that the owner of the “ochaya(teahouse)," a brothel, wouldn’t get angry. If you draw a girl as it is, the owner would get angry.

"Poor thing. If there is no famine, if there is no strict nengu, annual agricultural tax of the shogunate, she could go to the festival with her parents and siblings and could go her home. I, as an old (rich) man,  know your feeling." I think the picture means such things.

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浮世絵で見る浅草酉の市 | 浅草・酉の市2024(令和6年の酉の市は5日(火)、17日(日)、29日(金)


At the X of the “Daiyoshiwara (The Great Yoshiwara) exhibition, they were trying to make a shallow advertisement using that cat in the picture. Don't the people involved in that exhibition understand the meaning of that picture? I don't want people to think that Japan would be a country with a low level for the art at the top national art university in Japan, and I felt more angry rather than sad, so I took a pen.

 

Thank you.