Shimabara Courtesans Exorcizing Demons

Miyagawa Isshō Japanese

Not on view

Two young, brightly dressed courtesans and an older lady—whose puffed-out cheeks resemble those of the auspicious maiden Otafuku—are performing the ritual act of tossing beans to exorcize evil as part of the Setsubun Festival, celebrated on the eve of the beginning of spring. While tossing beans, people shout, “Out with the demons, in with good luck” (Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi). Here the artist has literally shown demons fleeing the courtesans and elderly attendant, who stand behind the lattice windows of a brothel. The senryū (seventeen-syllable humorous poem) playfully suggests that for a courtesan of the Shimabara pleasure quarters in Kyoto, the best New Year’s dream would be for a treasure boat to arrive in the form of a wealthy client. There was a custom of placing a picture of a treasure boat under one’s pillow on New Year’s Eve to ensure an auspicious dream. The poem reads:

Shimabara no
yume ni teki nashi

Nothing rivals the dream
of a Shimabara courtesan—
brought by a treasure boat.
—Kikusai (with handwritten seal)
(Trans. John T. Carpenter)

Shimabara Courtesans Exorcizing Demons, Miyagawa Isshō (Japanese, 1689–1780), Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper, Japan

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