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Today’s illustration is another double page spread, showing the street during Uondo’s debut as an oiran. Onlookers peek out of tea shops and comment about the procession. The Maizuruya staff is shown surrounding Uondo, helping to disguise her so that she appears more or less human. Note the fake feet dangling from her kimono, and the kurogo carrying her and acting as her arms. Maybe the onlookers don’t notice him behind all of the attendants. Or maybe they ignore him because everyone knows you’re supposed to pretend that kurogo are invisible.
So Denzō’s plan went in to effect, and Yoshiwara’s very first mermaid oiran made her debut¹ at dusk, when it was dimly lit. He positioned a kurogo behind her to act as a pair of arms, and somehow the trick worked and everyone was fooled. Don’t make me say in writing that this is where the word ningyō tsukai² comes from!
- An oiran’s debut was a big event. When a girl was ready to make her official debut as the highest ranking courtesan, brothels would put on a major show of it. The oiran would wear heavy, multilayered kimono, a massive wig, and extremely high platform shoes. It was extremely difficult to walk through the streets like this, and it was a sign of her professionalism and grace. There would be with a large parade, with music, revelers, and onlookers on either side. She would be accompanied by her own attendants, and followed by her lower ranking brothel sisters. Here’s a modern day reenactment so you can get a feel of what it would have looked like.
- Kyōden breaks the fourth wall here to forcefully insert this really awful pun. Ningyo tsukai means “puppetmaster.” It sounds almost exactly like ningyō tsukai, “a person who uses mermaids.” The kurogo is operating the mermaid like a puppet; or perhaps Denzō is the puppetmaster for organizing this whole spectacle.