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Genji Ukifune

Kabuki scholar Laurence Kominz discusses a woodblock print of a Kabuki actor and courtesan depicted in a scene from the famous Japanese epic The Tale of Genji. Created by Asian Art Museum.

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Video transcript

this print is a fanciful and imaginative metate suggesting an erotic scene from Japan's greatest novel The Tale of Genji Lawrence Coleman's a metate print like the one we're looking at now encourages viewers to reinterpret a classic work by imagining a well-known and sexy star together with a beautiful courtesan in the original scene from the novel written around 1000 CE II a handsome prince abducts an aristocratic girl and takes her on a dangerous boat ride to try to woo her a poem on the print refers to a passage in the tale in this parody retelling a star of the Kabuki stage plays the prince the young man is on a party excursion with his beloved we see a pitcher of sake a sake cup and a tray of food in the boat his companion in the print is not an aristocratic girl but a courtesan her Obi sash is tied elaborately in front and so we have a professional couple engaging in a very playful love experience that combination of fabulous artistry and playfulness is a hallmark of Edo culture it's true on the Kabuki stage as well incredible artistry on stage to create some of the most vulgar and wild and crazy' dramatic situations you could imagine but the artistry is always first-rate that's what I love about Edo culture it's that combination you