Seiro bijin awase sugata kagami

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Seirô bijin awase sugata kagami (roughly, "Mirror of the Forms of Beautiful Women of the Blue/Green Towers") is a famous book of illustrations by ukiyo-e artists Kitao Shigemasa and Katsukawa Shunshô. It was the first large-scale publication put out by publisher Tsutaya Jûzaburô, who partnered with the more established publisher Yamazaki Kinbei, perhaps in order to help share the costs and to increase the book's distribution.

The book consists of images of 164 Yoshiwara courtesans, each accompanied by a seventeen-syllable haikai poem composed by the courtesan depicted. It is believed to be the first full-color (nishiki-e) publication depicting the everyday lives of courtesans in Japan, and also might be the first compilation of courtesans' poetry. In contrast to a similar book of images of courtesans designed by Suzuki Harunobu and published six years earlier, which employed blank, white, backgrounds, Shigemasa & Shunshô's book employs color throughout most of both foreground and background.

In places, the book also employs a number of special pictorial techniques. Mica is used to help create the sparkling effect of snow in two of the images, and in one where women view Mt. Fuji through a telescope, the mountain is portrayed enlarged, and in a slightly more realistic or detailed style, emulating the style of European engravings. Though two artists - Shigemasa and Shunshô - designed the images for the book, scholars have been unable to discern which images, or which parts, are by which artist, and it is believed that the blockcutter, Inoue Shinshichi, may have taken steps to minimize the differences between the two artists' styles.


  • Keyes, Roger. Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan. New York Public Library, 2006. pp13, 94-99.