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Utagawa Kuniteru : “The Young Maiden Oshichi” (1867)

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In 1683 a greengrocer’s daughter named Yaoya Oshichi was burned at the stake for attempted arson. During Edo’s great fire of the Tenna Era her family took refuge in a temple, where she fell in love with a page named Ikuta Shonosuke. Reasoning that if another fire occurred she might see him again, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

When the magistrate at her trial, attempting to try her as minor, repeatedly asked her “You must be fifteen years old, aren’t you?” the simple girl failed to take the hint and answered that she was sixteen, leaving him no choice but to sentence her to death. Her tragic story inspired several playwrights, who changed her into a heroic figure who commits a capital offense to rescue her lover. She has a memorial at Enjo-ji in Tokyo, where she receives offerings of paper cranes and cooking pots even to this day.

In this representation by Utagawa Kuniteru she wears the starburst pattern kimono associated with her character in Kabuki and puppet theater, the vignette above her head depicting a location in Edo known as Ai no Uchi. It is one of the artist’s series Edo Meisho, or Famous Sites of Edo.

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