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The artworks in the new San Francisco Asian Art Museum exhibition, “Seduction: Japan’s Floating World,” were made by men for men, the patrons of the Yoshiwara pleasure district outside of Edo, which is now known as Tokyo.Every little detail of Yoshiwara—from the décor and fashion, to the delicacies served at teahouses, to the talents of courtesans, both sexual and intellectual—was engineered to sate a warlord’s every whim.
Allen, the curator of Japanese art at the Asian Art Museum who originated “Seduction.” “In the 17th century, that term was turned on its head and the term ‘ukiyo’ was written with new characters to mean ‘floating world.’ The concept of the floating world was ignoring the problems that might have existed in a very strictly regulated society and abandoning yourself, bobbing along on the current of pleasure.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, yes, it’s a picture of a beautiful woman, wearing beautiful clothing.’ But it’s not a photograph.
It’s some artist’s rendition, made to promote this particular world, which was driven by economics.
A detail from Tsukioka Settei’s hanging scroll “Reading by Lantern Light,” circa 1776-1786, indulges in that fantasy. Weber Collection, image © John Bigelow Taylor) “The artwork is very much glamorized and idealized,” she continues.
“I haven’t been to 17th-century Japan so I don’t know what it was actually like, and the women didn’t write about it, so we don’t have their firsthand accounts.
To imagine it from a woman’s perspective, it must have been a very harsh reality.