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Seduction: Japan's Floating World

Token Gonbei, approx. 1845
From the series Bonafide Men of Ready Money, Labels Attached, Kuniyoshi Style
(Kuniyoshi moyo shofuda tsuketari genkin otoko)
By Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861)
Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper
Julia Meech Collection
Cat. no. 22

Token Gonbei, a martial-arts hero idealized as a Robin Hood–like character, is shown here plucking his whiskers. He appeared in Kabuki plays from 1793 onward. In this 1845 print, he wears a distinctive robe decorated with scenes of hell. The karma mirror on Gonbei's shoulder faces the viewer, inviting us to consider past sins.

Hell Courtesan, a legendary fifteenth-century prostitute who is said to have achieved enlightenment through the aid of a Zen monk, is shown wearing a similar robe in several works in this gallery. Fascinated by Hell Courtesan, the artist Kuniyoshi may have included the robe here as a tongue-in-cheek allusion to his own preoccupation with her legend.