Enjoying the Evening Cool on the Banks of the Sumida River

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

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In Edo-era Japan, oiran</>, or elite sex workers, were fashionable trend-setters. Japan’s rapidly expanding cities were home to a popular literary, musical, and fashion culture called ukiyo-e, “the floating world.” Within this floating world, oiran were both admired as cultured, fashionable, and educated women, and stigmatized for living outside of the structures of marriage. Their mobility was also tightly regulated by the government and brothel proprietors. This print’s composition is split into two, with the oiran and a tea house proprietor on the right side and other women mirroring them on the left side. At first, the composition seems to highlight the women’s differences. However, they meet each other with a play of fascinated gazes, reminding the viewer that marriage, sex work, entertainment, and domestic work are interrelated forms of feminized labor.

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