The Nightlife: Entertainments of the Floating World

New York Asia Week, March 14 - 23, 2013

Exhibition Dates:
March 14 - 23, 11 - 5 pm

Asia Week New York
Open House Weekend:
Saturday, March 16th, 10 - 6 pm
Sunday, March 17th, 10 - 6 pm

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Scholten Japanese Art is pleased to announce our upcoming gallery exhibition, The Nightlife: Entertainments of the Floating World, an exhibition devoted to the art of evening amusements. We will also be participating in the Asia Week New York Open House Weekend (www.asiaweekny.com) on March 16 - 17.


The exhibition will feature images from a variety of leisure activities featured in ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) such as the kabuki theater, sumo wrestling, music, party games, famous restaurants, teahouses and the beautiful women of the pleasure quarters.

The highlight of the show will be an important small-format six-panel screen (anonymous, 17th century, ink, color, gofun and gold leaf on paper, 25 3/8 by 81 1/2 in., 64.6 by 207 cm.) that depicts the famous female shrine dancer Izumo no Okuni who is credited with originating the kabuki theater (which later became restricted to male actors only) in Kyoto. The screen illustrates the intersection where everyday life in 17th century Japan meets the 'floating world'- offering its retreat from the realities of that life. On the left of the screen we see Okuni's performance and her rowdy audience's reaction, to the right we see the leisurely pursuits of a teahouse (with its comforts and courtesans), and in between men and women from all ranks of society enjoy a festival-like atmosphere under blossoming cherry trees.

Sumo wrestling

In a similar vein there will be another six-panel folding screen devoted to a variety of Asobi (Amusements), including a sumo wrestling match underway at the center of the composition with an audience of both standing and seated viewers arranged in a circle (anonymous, 17th century, ink, color, gofun and gold leaf on paper, 35 3/4 by 112 1/2 in., 90.8 by 285.8 cm). To the left and right at the edges of the gathering are vignettes of children playing and courtesans arriving and departing.


Although kabuki began in the early 17th century with Okuni and her retinue, it quickly inspired imitators. Brothel-owners organized their own performances known as onna (female) kabuki on stages located on the Kamo River bed in Kyoto's Shijo district, an unlicensed and unregulated area where a variety of entertainments were available to people of all classes of society. A front for illegal prostitution, onna kabuki was eventually banned in 1629 by the authorities. Wakashu (young man) kabuki took its place for a time, before that was recognized as a front for male prostitution and also banned by the authorities in 1652. Henceforward, kabuki was performed exclusively by men. This exhibition will include woodblock prints and paintings of male kabuki subjects, including 18th, 19th and 20th century works. A dynamic woodblock print in extraordinarily good condition by Ippitsusai Buncho (fl. ca. 1755-90) of the legendary actor Ichikawa Danjuro V (1741-1806) depicting the actor bursting through a standing screen in the role of Yakushiji Jirozaemon from the play Kaeribana eiyu Taiheiki staged in 1779 is an example of the narrow hosoban format favored for kabuki subjects in the second half of the 18th century.


Other types of entertainment in Edo period (1603-1868) Japan focused on feminine companionship with musical performances and party games with geisha (professional entertainers), courtesans (licensed and otherwise), and teahouse waitresses (who often were as well-known as high-ranking courtesans of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter). An okubi-e ('large head') print by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), Renowned Beauties Likened to the Six Immortal Poets: Appearing Again, the Waitress Okita of the Teahouse Naniwa, ca. 1795-96, is a portrait of the famous teahouse waitress Okita who worked at the Naniwa teahouse near the Asakusa Temple (woodblock print, 14 5/8 by 9 7/8 in., 37 by 25 cm).


A hanging scroll painted by Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825) depicts a courtesan in full regalia: resplendent in her elaborate kimono, complex obi (tied at the front, usually indicative of a courtesan) and numerous hair ornaments, early 19th century (ink and colors on silk, 68 7/8 by 29 in., 174.94 by 73.66 cm). She is flanked by her pair of kamuro (pre-adolescent apprentices) who further adorn the beauty in their matching attire. This dazzling creature, parading beneath blossoming cherry trees, is likely en route to meet a customer for the evening.


An okubi-e print by Keisai Eisen (1790-1848), Twelve Views of Modern Beauties: Ryogoku Bridge, Woman of a Light-Hearted Appearance, ca. 1825-26 (woodblock print, 15 1/8 by 10 ΒΌ in., 38.5 by 26 cm.), depicts a third type of woman at work in the evenings: most-likely she is a geisha (professional entertainer, but not necessarily a prostitute), identified by her relatively subdued kimono and hair ornaments, and more significantly, by the distinctive neck of a shamisen in her hands. The ability to play the shamisen, a guitar-like stringed instrument, was the principal talent associated with geisha. In contrast to a courtesan, a geisha was an entertainer- available for hire at the same parties attended by courtesans and served by waitresses. Another print from this series by Eisen illustrates a beauty with a shamisen plectrum holding her fingers in a position related to a hand-game.


During the summer months, pleasure boats offered an alternate venue for parties normally hosted at restaurants and teahouses. A woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), The Hundred Poems as Told by the Nurse: Kiyowara no Fukyabu, ca. 1835-36 (10 by 14 7/8 in., 25.4 by 37.8 cm.) depicts a large boat, the Kawaichi Maru, which was either a floating restaurant or geisha house, identified by a sign on the boat and the paper lanterns strung along the boat's beams.


A woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), One Hundred Famous Views of Edo: Fireworks at Ryogoku, 1858 (woodblock print, 14 by 9 5/8 in., 35.7 by 24.4 cm.) illustrates the popular activity of simply enjoying the evening cool on the Sumida River in Edo.


In the Edo Period, kabuki performances were quite long; some programs would begin in the early hours of the morning while it was still dark, and continue until dusk, thus the duration of the program could span from evening to evening. The atmosphere was lively, and sometimes unruly, and the audience would actively participate and interact with the actors- a tradition which continues with contemporary kabuki. This exhibition will continue into the 20th century with works by artists such as Natori Shunsen (1886-1960), including a bold bust-portrait of the actor Bando Hikosaburo VI as Toneri Matsuomaru from the series Collection of Shunsen Portraits, 1928 (woodblock print, 15 3/4 by 10 3/4 in., 40 by 27.2 cm); and other prints from the same series. The exhibition will close with works from the end of the 20th century by the only living artist that Scholten represents, Paul Binnie (b. 1967), such as the remarkably expressive portrait, Ichikawa Ennosuke as Nikki Danjo, 1996 (with mica background, 16 1/4 by 11 3/8 in., 41.2 by 29 cm.).

Paul Binnie

Scholten Japanese Art is located at 145 West 58th Street, Suite 6D, between 6th and 7th Avenues. For the duration of the exhibition, March 14 - 23rd, the gallery will have general open hours (no appointments needed), 11 - 5 pm.

We are pleased to be participating in the schedule of events organized by Asia Week New York including extended hours on Saturday, March 16th, Sunday, March 17th, 10 - 6 pm.

Exhibition Dates
March 14 - 23, 11 - 5 pm
Press Contact
Katherine Martin (212) 585-0474

Asia Week New York


Scholten Japanese Art is open Monday - Friday, and some Saturdays by appointment only

Contact Katherine Martin at
(212) 585-0474 or email
to schedule a visit between 11am and 4pm preferably for no more than two individuals at a time.
Visitors are asked to wear face masks and practice social distancing at their discretion.

site last updated
May 25, 2023

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475