Twelve Hours of the Green Houses, Kitagawa Utamaro – Part I/IV

Time…
elusive and precious
time I wish I had taken and time I wish I had spent
time that goes by in a blink of an eye and time that stands still
illusive, capricious
a perpetual clock without hands…

Ageing gracefully is an art, an inherent mellowing quality. Utamaro’s prints capture this essence of timelessness. Sensuous, ageless, beautiful beyond time. Twelve Hours of the Green Houses (1794–1795) is a day and a night in the private life of the courtesans of Yoshiwara — the pleasure district of the capital Edo, present day Tōkyō. Utamaro himself lived for sometime in one of the Green Houses.

Before adopting the Gregorian calendar on 1 January 1873, the day in Japan counted 12 hours, each one named after one of the zodiacal symbols of the Lunar calendar; the day was divided into six day-time and six night-time hours. But the courtesans’ day did not start at midnight with the Hour of the Rat (midnight- two o’clock) that officially began the daily cycle; it started in the morning, on the Hour of the Dragon (eight – ten o’clock) when they would be waking up.

{The Hour of the Dragon – Tatsu no koku – 08:00-10:00 am}

On the Hour of the Dragon the alarm clock rings for the residents of the house. It is time to wake up but the two apprentices, still drowsy from lack of sleep, steal a few extra moments of rest.

5a

{The Hour of the Snake – Mi no koku – 10.00 am – noon}

It is the Hour of the Snake, around ten o’clock. An apprentice indulges the courtesan, her mistress, with a bowl of tea as she is about to finish her bath.

6a

{The Hour of the Horse – noon – 2 pm}

It is the hour of the Horse, around noon. The apprentice delivers a letter to her mistress, who is ready to have her hair done. The courtesan takes a quick look at the letter while filling her  pipe. Her young assistant grabs the opportunity to look in the mirror and adjust her chignon.

7a

*Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), one of the greatest masters of the Ukiyo-e school of Japanese wood-block printing, excelled in the exotic portrayal of Japanese women, especially those of the Yoshiwara district. Many contemporary critics regard him as the greatest Japanese printmaker. Like most of the Ukiyo-e artists, Kitagawa Utamaro was a native of Edo.

Scanned from an edition containing 55 print reproductions, details and annotations about Utamaro’s work, published by the Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels in 2012.

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23 thoughts on “Twelve Hours of the Green Houses, Kitagawa Utamaro – Part I/IV

  1. Pingback: Twelve Hours of the Green Houses, Kitagawa Utamaro – Part IV/IV « Lia in Brussels

  2. Pingback: Twelve Hours of the Green Houses, Kitagawa Utamaro – Part III/IV « Lia in Brussels

  3. Pingback: Twelve Hours of the Green Houses, Kitagawa Utamaro – Part II/IV « Lia in Brussels

      • That’s precisely what fascinates me in Japanese art; their symbols and details, things you need to look at over and over again to actually see! This publication is so great; not only they include some fantastic prints but a lot of information about them too. That’s where the details come from – otherwise I would probably have not noticed either!

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