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Number 105 from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo

Date: original 12/1857, the print for sale a later 20th century edition
Size: oban, approx. 10.25" x 15.75" overall
Condition: VG, no flaws of note
Impression: Fine, solid key lines, nice surface texture, tight registration
Color: Fine, deep saturated color and bleed through to verso
Documentation: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo Brazillier, 1986, print 103
IT IS A MURKY WINTER NIGHT as the Oumayagashi ferry approaches its landing on the west bank of the Sumida. The scene is dominated by black, made all the more macabre by an overprinting of yellowish green on the rocky shore in the foreground. To the upper right, the leaves of an evergreen oak and the grass on the bank below give off a green glow, while budded willow branches provide a lone note of elegance.

Against this somber background, the white faces, red sashes and blue head-towels of the two women in the bow of the ferry stand out in bright relief. These are yotaka, "night hawks," the lowest class of street prostitute in Edo, on their way to work. They are accompanied by their gyu, perhaps a father or brother, who served as bodyguard and tout. In earlier times, night hawks were literally street walkers and carried a straw mat with them for use in any convenient vacant shed or back alley. By Hiroshige's time, however, the night hawks had developed fixed places of operation, typically in lumber-storage sheds or in makeshift stalls that petty merchants used during the day. This view of the night hawks is the closest Hiroshige ever gets to depicting the harsh realities of lower-class life in Edo, and he does so in a way calculated not to offend. The faces for example, are shown as amusing caricatures of the thick lips and pug noses for which night hawks were known. In fact, many such low class prostitutes had been disfigured by disease, which they were forced to hide with the thick make up we see plastered on the faces here. They suffered a brutal existence, living in hovels along back canals in the Honjo district and making a living by catering to drunks and violence prone samurai underlings. It is a mark of their state in life that night hawks are always associated in art and literature with the cold of winter.

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