Japanese Art in the Asia Society Collection

Asia Society

Toshusai Sharaku (active 1794-1795)
Nakamura Konozo as the Boatman Kanagawaya no Gon and Nakajima Wadaemon as "Dried Codfish" Chozaemon
Edo period, 1794-1795
Woodblock print; ink, color, and mica on paper

In the mid-seventeenth century, artists began depicting scenes of urban life and its pleasures on woodblock prints, which immediately became popular with a large public. The all-male actors and courtesans who were the subject of these works, and the merchants who purchased them, ranked low in the traditional Confucian hierarchy, but their wealth and popularity gave them great economic and cultural power. Anxious about the discrepancy between the low status and actual power of these groups, the government found ways to exert control. Official censor seals prominently placed on this print beneath the artist's signature is one of many ways in which the government sought to monitor public tastes and, more importantly, public morals.