Hour of the Snake

Kikukawa Eizan (菊川英山), 1787–1867

Format, Size: Ōban nishiki-e
Series: 12 Hours of the Green Houses (青楼十二時)
Publisher: Ezakiya Kichibei (江崎屋吉兵衛)
Signature: Kiku Eizan hitsu (菊英山筆)
Reference: Kondo 1996, no. 83

In this series, the artist takes us through each of the 12 hours of a day in the Yoshiwara (an “hour” in Edo Japan was approx. two hours by Western reckoning). Eizan’s series is an homage to Utamaro’s popular treatment of the same theme ca. 1794, employing the same playful cartouche topped with a bell, and similar compositions for several of the designs.

The hour of the snake corresponded to mid-morning, about 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., and the courtesan featured is just rising from bed. Her assistant, a shinzō or a kamuro, brings her a bowl of water, perhaps for brushing her teeth or preparing for a bath. Their names appear above their heads: the courtesan Tomoshie of the Daimonji-ya, and the young assistant Kadoba(?) Midori.

The original Utamaro design for this hour is very similar — the courtesan even raises the same hand to dry her hair with her yukata sleeve. While Utamaro places both of his figures gazing left at some unseen object in the distance, Eizan’s version orients the young assistant’s body to the left while her head faces right, looking at the courtesan. Perhaps the courtesan has just walked past her. The dangling strands of hair on both figures’ foreheads further suggests movement in the scene.