active ca. 1781-1801
The Manzai Dance at the Niwaka Festival in the Pleasure Quarters
(Seiro manzai Niwaka)
signed Shunzun ga, publisher's seal Eiju han (Nishimuraya Yohachi of Eijudo), censor's seal kiwame, ca. 1791-1794
Niwaka (lit. 'spontaneous') entertainment originated in the early 1700s as impromptu comedic skits that were performed on the streets or temporary stages, often in association with a shrine festival. The lighthearted performances were first adapted by courtesans in Edo around 1730 but by the mid century the popularity of niwaka had waned. It was revived again by geisha in the 1770s as a more organized event in order to boost business. The Yoshiwara Niwaka Festival was held annually during the 8th lunar month and included costumed processions, parade floats (in the style of the Gion Festival in Kyoto). During the festival the strict regulations regarding access to the pleasure quarters were relaxed, allowing Edoites of all social positions, including women, the opportunity to visit the Yoshiwara and take in the spectacle. Both men and women wore costumes (frequently cross-gender) and participated in a variety of skits and dances, although most of the performances were primarily by geisha who were sometimes joined by the younger shinzo and kamuro; often with the theme of their performance identified on their folding fans.
The dimunitive size and clothing worn by the two petite figures in the foreground identify them as adolescent (on the left), and teenage (on the right) girls, most likely a kamuro and a shinzo, respectively. The girl on the left playfully balances on overturned seashells attached to long cords that she holds in her hands, while her companion on the right holds a fan inscribed 'waka.' The two the taller figures in the background may be women dressed as samurai; the figure on the left has noticeably feminine features.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession number 11.19607 (another design from this scarce series)
(inv. no. 10-3612)
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