Just across the canal from Osaka's Dôtonbori theater district was an area called Shimanouchi, the city's largest unofficial pleasure quarter. Shimanouchi hosted an annual parade early each summer featuring waitresses, geisha, and courtesans dressed in costumes while performing skits or pantomimes about well-known figures from contemporary society, theater, history, and legend. In this colorful pageant the women were accompanied by decorative floats carrying musicians and dancers.
Prints depicting women of the nerimono represent an important exception to the tenacious focus on kabuki for which kamigata-e are known. These visual records of participants in the parades offer glimpses into alternative entertainments beyond the kabuki and puppet theaters, and clues regarding what the citizens of nineteenth-century Osaka found fascinating and enjoyable. The nerimono were large-scale fantasies within a special world of asobi (play or amusement: 遊) where pleasure women, geishas, teahouse waitresses, musicians, actors, theater patrons, and bon vivants eagerly sought escape from everyday life.
Kunihiro, Shigeharu, and Yoshikuni all designed prints for this series. The year 1833 has been proposed by some researchers as for date of publication, but Matsudaira Susumu assigned a date of 1828 in the Ikeda Bunko catalog (see the IBKYS-II reference below). The large seal, its form so much like the oversized artist seals that were in vogue during this period, may be an unidentified publisher's seal, as it appears on prints by all three artists. Alternatively, one wonders whether the seal might have belonged to a floating-world sponsor of the series.
The geisha Take holds a scroll as she impersonates Fugen Bosatsu (普賢菩薩) or Samantabhadra (Sanskrit; Devanagari), associated with Monju 文殊, the principal bodhisattva who represents wisdom and enlightenment. Together they serve as the two attendants of Shaka 釈迦, founder of Buddhism. One version of the Shaka triad (Shaka sanzon 釈迦三尊) positions Fugen on the right symbolizing praxis (practical knowledge) and Monju on the left symbolizing wisdom. Fugen is typically shown holding a roll of texts, sometimes a lotus, and seated on an elephant (with three pairs of tusks). In Japan, due to the great popularity of the Lotus Sutra, Fugen is most commonly represented riding an elephant as described in that text, usually with his hands clasped together but sometimes holding a lotus, scepter, or scroll.
This impression comes from the much-admired Martin Levitz collection, New York City. Some of the Levitz prints were used to illustrate Schwaab's Osaka Prints (1989).
References: IBKYS-II, no. 50; WKN, no. 193