Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858)
Bikuni Bridge in Snow
From the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), 1858
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1991
Designed by Hiroshige’s student, Utagawa Hiroshige II, in the months after the master’s death, this print depicts one of the various bridges that crosses the Kyōbashi River. Several details in the image, however, point towards an alternative, humorously provocative meaning. In the 19th century, bikuni referred to a low-ranking prostitute who dressed as a Buddhist nun, and in fact, such prostitutes were believed to operate brothels in this neighborhood. The sign in the upper left is an advertisement for the meat of wild animals (yama kujira; literally, "mountain whale"), the consumption of which was forbidden by Buddhist doctrine. On the right side of the street, another advertisement for roasted yams lists their price as "thirteen ri " – a witty reference to the wordplay kuri yori , which can be read as either "nine ri [plus] four ri " or as "more [delicious] than chestnuts."
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