Okumura Masanobu, Courtesans as Three Sake Drinkers, a woodblock print


British Museum

British Museum

This illustration is a parody of a well-known classical painting subject that showed the founders of the three great creeds of Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism. They are all drinking vinegar, and are forced into the uncharacteristic agreement that it tastes awful. Here the sages are represented by three types of prostitute: a bikuni entertainer; a high-ranked courtesan, and an apprentice (male) Kabuki actor. They are shown serving themselves from a barrel of sake (rice wine) with obvious enjoyment.

The album Yūkun sennin ('Courtesans - Immortals') contains eleven black and white prints from what was probably a set of twelve. Each illustration humorously gives the three, usually female, figures the attributes of Chinese hermits and holy men in appropriate settings. Another page shows a coutesan conversing with the Immortal Gama, whose attribute is a toad.

The British Museum also has the wooden block used to print two of the illustrations, carved back-to-back on a single piece of cherry wood.

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  • Title: Okumura Masanobu, Courtesans as Three Sake Drinkers, a woodblock print
  • Date Created: 1710/1710
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 27.50cm; Width: 38.20cm (open); Width: 19.20mm (closed)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: woodblock
  • Subject: courtesan/prostitute; immortal; kabuki; mitate/yatsushi
  • Registration number: 1915,0823,0.12
  • Production place: Published in Edo
  • Producer: Print artist Masanobu, Okumura. Inscription by Nampo, Ota
  • Period/culture: Hoei Era
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Transferred from British Library. Previous owner/ex-collection Nampo, Ota