Ukiyo-e Prints in Honor of Women's Month 2022

The world of Japanese prints is not all about samurai, and compliant geisha. Many woodblock print artists depicted strong, intelligent and exceptional women from history and of the day. In honor of Woman’s Month, we pay our respect and bring you the images of some of these women and their stories. 

 

princess Sarashina-hime

Princess Sarashina-hime

This” print by Chikanobu shows the princess Sarashina-hime who was known for her strength and courage, wife of Aiki Morinosuke, defending herself from attackers.

Series: Edo Embroidery Pictures, Comparison of the Day and Night
Dated: 1886


Hokusai - manga Okane

The Strong Woman - Okane

The famous artist of the Great Wave, Hokusai, sketched this image of a famous strong woman named Okane, that could stop a charging horse just by stepping on the reins. Here she is nonchalantly enjoying the scenery while restraining the bucking horse with one foot. 

Dated: 1820’s


Yoshitoshi shinbun print
 

Quick Thinking 10 Year Old Girl 

Here is a beautiful print by Yoshitoshi that shows a ten year old girl displaying her wisdom by covering the head of a rearing horse with her jacket to calm him. This print was a news story insert in the “Yūbin hōchi shinbun” a popular newspaper of the day. 

Dated: 1875

 


Kunichika onnadate

Tattooed Street Bandit

In this print by Kunichika we see a tattooed commoner from the series “Heroic Commoners of Modern Edo”. These women were known as ‘onnadate’ and used martial arts skills and weapons to protect the townspeople from injustice.

Dated: 1867


abalone divers Japan

Abelone Divers

In this print by Kunichika, we see Japanese female free-divers who make a living from the ocean collecting sea urchins, pearls, and abalone to sell at the market. Wearing nothing but a loincloth, these fearless women free-dive up to 40 feet into the cold water, holding their breath for as long as sixty seconds at a time.

Series: Genji Goju-yo Jo
Dated: 1884.


bonesetter saved from rape

Bonesetter Defends Herself

This newspaper insert print by Yoshitoshi tells of Matsumoto Ai, a female bonesetter in Osaka, using judo to drive away four ruffians who tried to rape her. A bonesetter is a practitioner of joint manipulation. Before the advent of chiropractors, osteopaths and physical therapists, bonesetters were the main providers of this type of treatment.

Dated: 1875


Miyagino plots revenge

Sisters Revenge Father's Death

Yoshitoshi designed this print of Miyagino and her sister Shinobu plotting to revenge the death of their father who was murdered by a samurai. In secret they trained themselves in the martial arts. They then went to the local daimyo and challenged Shiga to a duel, killing him in the fight that followed. 

Series: 24 Accomplishments in Imperial Japan
Dated: 1885


Female Japanese Spy

Female Spy

This newspaper insert print by Yoshitoshi shows Lady Kido Suikoin, a former geisha named Ikumatsu. A savvy woman with great political knowledge. She was trained to be a spy during the Meiji restoration. In this print, she is seen carrying two swords and waiting outside a sliding screen, perhaps secretly listening to a conversation.

Series: Personalities of Recent Times
Dated: 1867


tortured woman yoshitoshi

Loyalist Supporter Stays True

Yoshitoshi shows us the chief Lady-in-Waiting of the Konoe Clan and active supporter of the loyalists who opposed the relaxed policy of the shogunate to foreign trade. As a result of her beliefs she was arrested and badly tortured in 1858 during the Ansei purges. Despite this, she remained loyal to her cause and became a folk hero following the collapse of the shogunate government ten years later. 


onnadate triptych

Three Female Street Bandits

In this triptych by Kunichika we see a trio of loyal, or righteous female bandits. These women were known as “onnadate”, who protected the weaker people in Japanese society by their martial arts and weapons skills. 

Dated: 1867


kaga no chiyo poet

Famous Poet

Kaga-no-Chiyo, was a Japanese poet of the Edo period, widely regarded as one of the greatest poets of haiku. Some of Chiyo's best works include The Morning Glory, Putting up my hair, and Again the women.

Being one of the few women haiku poets, Chiyo-ni has been seen an influential figure. Before her time, haiku by women were often dismissed and ignored. She began writing Haiku at seven and by age seventeen she had become very popular all over Japan.

She is perhaps best known for this haiku:

morning glory!
the well bucket-entangled,
I ask for water

Series: Thirty-six Good and Evil Beauties
Dated: 1876

 


Okane stops horse

Strong Woman - Okane

In this piece, Kunichika represents the strong woman Okane. Okane lived eight hundred years ago. Whilst taking a walk, she was nearly knocked over by a runaway horse. Stepping on its reins she effortlessly restrained the animal and was thereafter famous for her great feats of physical strength. You can see the horse dashing by Okane as she carries the bucket of washing. Even the interlocking pattern on her kimono signifies strength.

Series: Thirty-six Good and Evil Beauties
Dated: 1876


Kesa Gozen

The Story of Kesa Gozen

This print by Kunichika, illustrates the beautiful Kesa Gozen. The son of a minor courtier became infatuated with her despite the fact that she was already married to a palace guard. He bullied her until she agreed to his advances on the condition that he murder her husband. She concealed herself in her husband’s room having first cut off her long hair. Her suitor stole into the room and cut off the head of the sleeping figure only discovering later that he had killed the woman he loved. Here we see Gozen with a knife in her hand preparing to cut off her own hair in front of a table mirror wrapped in cloth.

Series: Thirty-six Good and Evil Beauties
Dated: 1876


Otake buddhist woman

The Humble Buddhist Woman - Otake

A portrait by Kunichika of one of the holy women of Buddhist legend. She was a humble maidservant in Edo during the 17th century. She gave all she had to the poor, ate very little and worked extremely hard. A group of monks found her preparing food one day. When Otake bent down to pick up some grains of rice, a halo-like light surrounded her, convincing the monks that they had come upon a divine being. She is known as the avatar of the Nyorai Buddha. It is said that she was so humble that she gathered her food by placing a net over the outlet to a drain, collecting only the food that others were throwing out. 

Series: Thirty-six Good and Evil Beauties
Dated: 1876


chikako 100 aspects of the moon

Love of a Daughter

Chikako’s father was a good man who was jailed when he ran out of money. Chikako prayed for her father’s release, as she jumped to her death in the icy waters of the Asano River to demonstrate her sincerity. This print of the depths of a daughters love is sad but beautifully rendered with the contrast of her colorful kimono against the winter backdrop.

Series: One Hundred Aspects of the Moon
Dated: 1885