In a tradtional Japanese garden, shrouded in mist, a samurai and a lover have a secret rendez-vous (Fig.1). They are making love as they lean against a stone lantern (tōrō). It is night and the full moon is barely visible through the mist.
What makes this design extraordinary is that the female figure is in fact a kabuki actor who still wears his makeup and cap of his role portraying Prince Koretaka (惟喬親王), disguised as the farmer Tsuchizō, in the Play Ōshukubai Koi no Hatsune. So we are dealing here with a gay liaison.
We know the kabuki actor in this print is male since females were already banned from this art form since 1629. They were not longer allowed to perform for being too erotic, as a result of which audiences frequently became rowdy, and brawls occasionally broke out. After 1629, male actors played both female and male characters. The female roles were performed by so-called onnagata (aka oyama) or wakashū-kabuki (adolescent boy-kabuki).
The enigmatic artist Tōshūsai Sharaku (act. ca.. 1794/95) who was specialized in portraying kabuki actors, and considered one of the greatest portraitists ever, produced a famous portrait of the actor Nakamura Nakazō II also in the role of the farmer Tsuchizō with his characteristic sideburns (Fig.2).