maid servant and courtesan  Daily Japanese Textile IMG_3225

Oshi-e Dolls (maid servant and courtesan)
Silk scraps, silk wadding, paper, tortoise shell, bamboo, pigments
Cut, glued, painted

March 3rd is traditionally Hina Matsuri (Dolls’ Festival) in Japan. For this occasion, families bring out their collection of dolls representing members of the imperial family and the imperial household, and display them with great care on a specially made stand. Most dolls are three dimensional, but the dolls shown here, variously called oshi-e (lit., pushed pictures), oki-age (stuck in and built up) or kukuribina (bundle dolls), are two dimensional. When turned around, the viewer does not see the backs of their kimonos, but flat blank space and a few tricks of the trade.

maidservant, courtesan - reverse side  Daily Japanese Textile IMG_3240

Lavish collections of dolls for Hina Matsuri included not just the imperial family, but legendary heroes from Japanese folk tales and even characters from favorite kabuki plays. The above two dolls are a courtesan – identifiable by her luxurious clothes and elaborately decorated hair – and her maid servant, who lights the courtesan’s way. The comb in the courtesan’s hair appears to be very finely sliced tortoise shell. The red silk in her satin wig is real tiny scale shibori, and her eyelids are painted in very pale pink.

courtesan, close up Daily Japanese Textile IMG_3228

The doll maker had to have a supply of luxurious scraps with very small designs. Large scale designs would look unrealistic. Below, the amount of work that went into making the numerous folds look natural can be seen. The green and blue scrap is the oversized knot of the obi. Courtesans were distinguished by obis knotted in the front, rather than in the back.

courtesan's obi and kimono folds  Daily Japanese Textile IMG_3226

The same care has gone into the maid servant doll, although she is dressed far more modestly. Her colors are much less vibrant, her haori is black, she wears fewer layers, and in her hair is a single plain hairpin. The one spot of red the doll maker has allowed her is small, and peeks out from under layers of kimono. Here too, workmanship is visible in the separate underlayers of her kimono at the sleeve openings, and the cord at her waist that shows where her haori is fastened; there is a tiny mitsubishi crest embroidered onto her left sleeve and additional delicate embroidery on her blue collar. Even her lantern, which could have been made with a single silk scrap, has a separate hexagonal piece at the top to give it added dimensionality. Note that although she has the same pink eyelids, she has no eyebrows. During the Edo period, it was common practice for married women to shave their eyebrows.  Both of her hands show marvelous detail.  On the hand that holds the lantern, the nails on her thumb and pinky are outlined in fine black lines.  The other hand realistically clutches her skirts.

maid servant, lamp  Daily Japanese Textile IMG_3239

She is wearing tabi, and we only see the shape of her toes. The courtesan’s costume is so voluminous that we can’t see her feet.

maid servant's geta  Daily Japanese Textile IMG_3237

These two dolls are 13″ and 18″ tall respectively. Even the sizes of their faces are different.  This might be an indication that the courtesan doll was to be placed in the foreground, and the maid servant doll slightly in the background of the display stand, so she would appear to be walking ahead to clear the way for her mistress.

Ukiyo-e feature many illustrations of courtesans out walking with their servants, a sight that would have attracted much attention and admiration. This ukiyo-e depicts a scene from the kabuki play Date no Juyaku. Seen here is the tragic heroine, the courtesan Takao from the brothel Miuraya (Miura’s) of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters, with her maid servant and two young assistants. (Note Takao’s geta with three “teeth” rather than the usual two. This was another distinction of courtesan dress.)

Takao - Date no Juyaku - by Utagawa Kunisada

For more on Hina Matsuri, click here.

For more on oshi-e, read Kimono Boy’s informative blog post.