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Bijin Beauties

Kōjien defines bijin-ga as a picture that "emphasizes the beauty of women" [1], and the Shincho Encyclopedia of World Art defines it as a depiction of "the beauty of a woman's appearance."[2] On the other hand, Gendai Nihon Bijin-ga Zenshū Meisaku-sen I defines bijin-ga as woodblock prints that explore "the inner beauty of women."[3] For this reason, the essence of bijin-ga cannot always be expressed only by depicting a bijin, a woman aligning with the beauty image.

In fact, in ukiyo-e bijin-ga, it was not considered necessary because the picture resembles a "mirror image" or photographic portrayal of the subject. This is why the depiction of women in ukiyo-e bijin-ga is stylized rather than an attempt to create a realistic image. [4] For example, throughout the Edo period (1603-1867), married women were accustomed to shaving their eyebrows (hikimayu). Still, in bijin-ga, a rule was to draw the eyebrows of married women. Interestingly, women were not allowed to partake in the kabuki theatre, leading to exciting circumstances and twists that only men dressed as women could inevitably produce. Initially, both men and women acted in Kabuki plays. Still, eventually, only male actors were allowed to perform the margins, a tradition that has remained to the present day despite the "forward thinking" of today's world. 

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806)

The bijin-ga prints created by Utamaro around 1790-1795 remain some of the most sought-after bijin prints produced. The print "Three Beauties of the present day" depicted three girls renowned for their beauty around the Edo capital. The first girl, Ohisa, was the drawing card girl of the teahouse Takashima at Yonezawa-cho, Ryogoku. The girl's father owned the tea house that Utamaro visited, and he was so taken by her beauty he sketched the 17-year-old girl after asking her father if he would go on and see each of the three girls before composing his famous print.

Toyohina, the girl in the center, was a famous geisha in Yoshiwara. She was also the master of Tomimoto-bushi and a personal entertainer of a wealthy merchant, Tamamura-ya. 

The last girl, Okita, was the drawing card of Naniwa-ya and the daughter of the teahouse Naniwaya within the precincts of Sensoji temple. After the print was released, all three girls suddenly became the most famous people in Edo, Japan. It got so bad that the crowds that came to view the girls would disrupt any business conducted at the teahouses.

The three girls look almost the same in the famous woodblock Utamaro published in 1793, and that is not to say that all Japanese people look the same; they look alike. The three girls, each looking in a different direction, with the bottom two facing each other, portray the stylized representation of bijin in ukiyo-e, other Japanese paintings, and artwork during and after the Edo period, and well into contemporary and modern times. 

Artists: Nearly all ukiyo-e artists produced bijin-ga, as it was one of the central themes the woodblock artists relied upon for material. However, a few, including Utamaro, Suzuki Harunobu, Itō Shinsui, Toyohara Chikanobu, Uemura Shōen, and Torii Kiyonaga, have been described as the greatest pioneers of the genre.

                                                                           [1][2][3][4] Wikipedia

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