Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815)
Discovering the Address of a Husband’s Mistress, from the series A Collection of Humorous Poems
Japan, Edo period, 1790
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1970
Honolulu Museum of Art
Looking through the guidebook
Cried the housewife.
One of the longest running publishing projects of the Edo period was the Yoshiwara saiken (“Close Look at the Yoshiwara”), a guidebook with maps to the various brothels and sights, rankings of courtesans, and detailed information about prices and other practical matters. Over time, the Yoshiwara developed its own distinct culture, and even a unique slang (arinsu); the Yoshiwara saiken gave first-time visitors hints as to how to avoid boorishness (yabo) and present themselves as sophisticates (tsū; of course, Yoshiwara regulars could easily identify pretenders, or hanka-tsū).
However, here Kiyonaga has shown another use for the Yoshiwara saiken, as a wife peruses its contents to find the courtesan frequented by her husband, much to her friend’s embarrassed amusement. As in many traditional societies, arranged marriages did not necessarily result in love, and there was considerable social tolerance for men to pursue extramarital relationships (a tolerance generally not extended to women).