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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: Courtesan with an Umbrella in the Snow
Date: commissioned for a New Year, likely before 1818
Medium: Color woodblock print
Dimensions: 8 5/16 x 6 7/8 inches (21.1 x 17.5 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Joanna Haab Schoff, Class of 1955
Object Number: 2011.017.024
Label Text: Oiran ni
Hikitomerarete
Kinuginu no
Sode mo harawanu
Kitaguni no yuki

Stopped for the night by
A top ranked courtesan
On the morning of parting
I don’t brush my sleeve
Of the north-country snow
—Mochizuki Kagenari

This surimono is an unusually straightforward bijin-ga image, extremely close to an ukiyo-e commercial print, albeit utilizing the square shikishi format and special printing effects of surimono. There is little attempt here to find historical shades or archetypes to overlay the woman; even the poem is a fairly straightforward appreciation. The “North Country” (hokkoku) was a common way of referring to the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters, located to the north of Edo, while kinuginu, literally a repetition of “silk robes,” might seem to refer to the layered kimono of the courtesan, but actually describes the sadness of parting after a night of love, when each partner dresses again in his or her separate robes. There may be an implication here, however, that in their intimacy, some of the courtesan’s white face powder has rubbed off onto the man’s kimono sleeve, which he intentionally retains as a keepsake.

Oiran were one of the highest classes of courtesan, distinguished from other women by the their obi belts tied in the front. They often wore high clogs and richly layered silk kimono, appearing as the epitome of fashion, wealth and beauty. As in many commercial bijin prints of the nineteenth century, the woman is depicted in the snow, a light reference perhaps to the more traditional meaning of the “North Country,” the snowy north of Japan.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.