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"The Floating World"—a catchphrase that defined the pleasure quarters of Edo-period Japan's (1615 – 1868) and conveyed a fantasy realm where men were led to believe they could drift aimlessly in the pursue of pleasure. Brothels were a prominent feature, but other entertainment, such as theater, music, and wrestling were also offered. Pursuit of such pleasures prompted a revolution in fashion, literature, and the visual arts, as the pleasure district was marketed not just through the offer of sex but rather through the elaboration of the seductive image of a sophisticated demimonde that beckoned visitors.
Seduction show how images of courtesans were constructed as objects of desire, and it considers how the artistic version aligned with or departed from the reality of women's lives. It traces the ways that art was used to transport viewers to a constructed realm of sensory delights to stimulate desires and gratify fantasies of carefree pleasure. Editor Laura W. Allen offers an overview of the seductive spell cast by the floating world and provides helpful entries on each of the featured objects. Essays by Melinda Takeuchi, Eric C. Rath, and Julia Meech introduce the floating world, consider the role of food in the pleasure quarter, and explore the feminine gaze in the Japanese print. A translation of the texts on the Hishikawa Moronobu scroll is included. The result is a fascinating study of the way that visual objects were used to convey insider knowledge about the latest fashions in clothing, hairstyles, accessories, and even games. Armed with such knowledge, a visitor to the pleasure quarters would be prepared for the pursuit of love and other objects of desire.
Laura W. Allen, curator of Japanese art at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, is author of numerous essays on Japanese narrative painting and woodblock prints. Her most recent publications include In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection and The Printer's Eye: Ukiyo-e from the Grabhorn Collection, both from the Asian Art Museum.