Kitagawa Utamaro’s “Flowers of Edo” bijinga ukiyo-e art prints

"Flowers of Edo:Girl Ballad Singers"(江戸の花娘浄瑠璃)

“Flowers of Edo: Girl Ballad Singers” are works of the later years of Kitagawa Utamaro (1753?-1806) who was an ukiyo-e artist specializing in beautiful women portrait.

He painted two girls playing the shamisen (三味線) and sang for joruri (浄瑠璃).

Flowers of Edo, Momiji
Flowers of Edo, Tsubaki

In 1803, a few years after Tsutaya Juzaburo (蔦屋重三郎) who was an important business partner died, he painted these symmetrical beautiful paintings. The publisher was Yamaguchiya Chūuemon  (山口屋忠右衛門).

Following year, Utamaro was punished for being charged with crimes of drawing “Picture of Hideyoshi and his Five Wives Viewing the Cherry-blossom at Higashiyama” from the shogunate. After finishing the term of imprisonment, he almost became a lifeless shell. And he died in 1804. So this was one of the masterpieces in his later life.


Momiji (紅葉) and Tsubaki(椿) seems to be the name of girls. Momiji means for maple in Japanese and Tsubaki for camellia. He drew each plant on their heads.

In the 16th century, three strings musical instruments had been brought to Japan from China via Ryukyu (Okinawa). Shamisen is what the Japanese had improved it. Shamisen became used as an accompaniment of joruri which episodically tells a story. 

During Edo era, joruri developed as a puppet theater, it was also adopted into kabuki. Puppetry and kabuki played an important entertainment role for the citizens of Edo.

“Flowers of Edo: Girl Ballad Singers” directed a spotlight on the girls who support such popular industry. 


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