A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri Musume (page 3)

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Today’s post is page 3 of Hakoiri musume. The illustration on pages 2 and 3 forms a double page spread, so I am including the scan on both page below for refence.

The illustration below has a number of great things to look at. One thing of note is how sea creatures were drawn in the Edo Period. Each of the characters in the illustration below is not a human, but a fish. Note the animals on top of their heads denoting what kind of fish they are. This is not unique to Kyōden; this is how most artists illustrated anthropomorphized fish. In fact you can see this trend all over Japanese art. Next time you look at statuary or illustrations, look carefully above their heads. You may learn that what you think is a person is actually a dragon or some other creature simply being expressed in human form!

In commemoration of its opening, and with permission from the Dragon King, a freak show, a theater, a teahouse, a shooting gallery, etc. were built in the undersea Nakazu Shinchi. It is just as crowded and popular as it was when the human Nakazu Shinchi was built. Sea lion performed acrobatics, flying fish walked on tightropes, clams blew mirages¹, and octopuses played one-man-bands². People crowded around trying to make money with various spectacles. Money is good all the way down to the bottom of the sea.

Fish #1: “Was that a real clam making the mirage, or was it just a trick projection with a candle?”

Fish #2: “Can you really staff a brothel with only blowfish³? I think I’ll go fire off a shot…⁴”

  1. In Japanese folklore, mirages at sea are said to be images of the Dragon King’s palace breathed out of the mouths of giant clams. The word for mirage, shinkirō, means “clam breath castle.” The man on the far left is pointing to an image of a clam mirage, and spectators wonder if it’s really a mirage or a trick projection on a screen with a candle.
  2. I translated this as “one man band,” but it’s not the same as what we know as a one man band in English. The Japanese term in hachiningei, which means “eight man performance,” referring to one man performing the work of eight. This works well for an octopus with its eight limbs. (The large signs in the foreground advertise the sea lion acrobatics and octopus one-man-band.)
  3. This is an exquisitely multi-layered pun. Blowfish must be sliced carefully to avoid the deadly neurotoxin in their meat. The cheapest back-alley brothels in Edo’s red-light districts were tiny rows of dirty rooms called kirimise (“sliced shops”) because of how narrow they were. They sold sex at half the usual price: 100 mon, which coincidentally sounds just like the word for a bullet. A slang term for blowfish is teppō (“gun”), while “firing off a shot” is slang for sex. These extremely cheap brothels were said to be good only for a single “shot;” you’d never go back twice. When this fish says that he wants to fire off a shot, it sounds like he wants to visit the shooting range, but he’s really talking about visiting the cheapest blowfish brothel around. Finally, there is the association of the blowfish’s deadly neurotoxin with diseases like syphilis which one picks up at a cheap brothel. In Japanese, the same verb (ataru) is used to mean contracting a disease from a brothel, as well as eating a piece of poisoned blowfish—and also shooting a target with a gun!
  4. On the far right of the illustration there is an archery hut. These were ostensibly places to go fire arrows like a carnival shooting gallery. But they were staffed by sexy, flirty young women, who were as much of an attraction as the archery. It was an open secret that sex was for sale as well. Just look at the elderly fish heading to the archery range—I don’t think he’s going there to shoot arrows.

2 thoughts on “A-Yokai-A-Day: Hakoiri Musume (page 3)

  1. I don’t know why, but i love these drawings so much, kibyoshi and other Edo period books have such a strange charm.
    (Also, i love how the blowfish pun can also make sense in English, hehe.)

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