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Oumayagashi, No. 105 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo

Utagawa Hiroshige

Asian Art

It is a murky winter night as the Oumayagashi ferry approaches its landing on the west bank of the Sumida River. The two figures in the bow of the ferry are yotaka, "night hawks"—the lowest class of prostitutes in Edo. This image is the closest Hiroshige ever attained to depicting the vicissitudes of the life of Edo's lower class, and he did so in a manner calculated not to offend. The faces, for example, are shown as amusing caricatures of the thick lips and pug noses for which yotaka were known. In fact, many such women were disfigured by disease, which led them to hide under the sort of thick make-up we see here. The yotaka suffered a brutal life, and their painful existence was long associated in Japanese art and literature with the cold of winter.

MEDIUM Woodblock print
  • Place Made: Japan
  • DATES 12th month of 1857
    PERIOD Edo Period, Ansei Era
    DIMENSIONS 14 1/16 x 9 1/2in. (35.7 x 24.1cm) Sheet: 14 3/16 x 9 1/4 in. (36 x 23.5 cm) Image: 13 3/8 x 8 3/4 in. (34 x 22.2 cm)  (show scale)
    MARKINGS Publisher: Shitaya Uo Ei. Date and censor seals at top margin.
    SIGNATURE Hiroshige-ga
    CREDIT LINE Frank L. Babbott Fund
    PROVENANCE Prior to 1939, provenance not yet documented; by 1939, acquired by George Tuttle of Brookly, NY; November 24, 1939, purchased from Mr. George Tuttle by the Brooklyn Museum.
    Provenance FAQ
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION A scene of the Oumayagashi ferry at the west bank of the Sumida River. There is an overprinting of yellow-green on the shore and at right the leaves of an evergreen oak and the grass below reflect an eerie green glow against this somber background. The two women in the bow of the ferry are yotaka ("night hawks"), the lowest class of street prostitute in Edo, on their way to work. In Hiroshige's time, yotaka had fixed places of operation, most often in lumber-storage sheds or in makeshift stalls that merchants used during the day. Their faces are shown with the thick lips and pug noses for which they were known. Many were disfigured by disease which they would hide with thick make-up. They lived in hovels along back canals in the Honjo district and catered to drunken tradesmen and violence-prone samurai underlings. Oumayagashi means "horse stable landing," after the shogunal stables that were located here until the 1690's. The Oumayagashi ferry was replaced in 1874 by Umaya Bridge, which was rebuilt in 1893 a short distance from its present location.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797–1858). Oumayagashi, No. 105 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 12th month of 1857. Woodblock print, 14 1/16 x 9 1/2in. (35.7 x 24.1cm). Brooklyn Museum, Frank L. Babbott Fund, 39.581 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 39.581_PS20.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 39.581_PS20.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2023
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