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One of the cool things about these kind of old books is that they have a rudimentary form of speech bubbles. They can be hard to see amidst all of the cursive text covering the page, but you can see marks that look similar to a modern Japanese quotation mark which mark off the speech bubbles: ﹁
They don’t connect to the character’s mouths or faces the way that modern speech bubbles do, so it can also sometimes be hard to know who is speaking—although you can usually tell from the context.
Today’s post covers the speech bubbles appearing in this two-page spread.
Denzō: “Don’t tell the other girls, but I bought a mermaid for seven and a half ryō. That’s probably even cheaper than a fresh bonito!”
Denzō: “We’ll hide the fact that you don’t have legs by using these leggings. As for your hair, instead of a shinobuwage¹ let’s try a yokohyōgo² to make you look taller. I ordered you a kimono from Kyūrin³ so no need to worry about that.”
Hairdresser: “The master always acts without thinking. I’m sure this plan of his will fail as well…”
- Shinobuwage was a popular ladies’ hairstyle in Edo during the late 1700’s. It had a large topknot and two draping side parts. It was especially popular among the women of the Yoshiwara red light district.
- Yokohyōgo was a very showy hairstyle that used lots of pins to make a broader shape than the shinobuwage. It was a symbol of high status.
- The author of this book, Santō Kyōden, was a frequent visitor to the Yoshiwara pleasure district, and his work shows that he knew the area well. Kyūrin was the business name of a famous embroider in Asakusa. He was a refined and tasteful man whose real name was Katabamiya Kyūbē. Kyūbē even acted as a matchmaker, introducing Kyōden to the Yoshiwara girl whom he married. This little namedrop might serve as a plug or as thanks to Kyūbē for his help.