Young Male Lover Whispers in the Ear of his Secret Lover 歌まくら
Marijn Kruijff
1 min

Young Male Lover Whispers in the Ear of his Secret Lover with the Tsunokakushi

1 min

The woman’s hat (tsunokakushi) is an indication that the scene (Plate 5) is taking place at a shrine. In the Edo period they were used for temple visits but since the Meiji period (1868–1912), the tsunokakushi has come to be associated with Japanese marriage rites.

歌まくら - utamakura - utamaro -tea house balcony

Plate 5 from Utamaro’s ‘Utamakura (Poem of the Pillow 歌まくら)‘ published in 1788

Secret Tryst

In this case the image implies the visit is a pretext for a covert rendezvous between what are presumably attendants in a samurai residence. The young male bends toward the young female. He appears to be whispering in her ear, while the woman holds a bundle of kaishi papers to her mouth.


Among ukiyo-e scholars there is some debate about the origin of the male character. Kiyoshi Shibui gave hime the nickname ‘Orisuke’, a moniker of adolescent servants in the Edo period. But this is impugned by Yoshikazu Hayashi who doubts the figure came from such a low rank.


Amidst the excellent printing details are the glistening mica dust applied to the tsunokakushi and the karazuri  embossed pattern on the sole of the bride’s tabi sock.

eiri - fumo no kiyogaki - teahouse balcony

Plate 7 from Eiri’s ‘Fumi no kiyogaki (Models of Calligraphy)‘ published in 1801

Secret Lover

A lady of the samurai court (Plate 7) is taking advantage of an official outing to temple and theater, to rendezvous with a secret lover on a tea-house balcony. She wears the characteristic tusnokakushi formal headgear (seen today only at traditional-style weddings), which obscures the face of her lover and result in a somewhat weakened compositon.

Least Successful

Indeed, this is the one scene of the series that copies Utamaro all too closely, and it is thus, also, the least successful design. When you compare it with Utamaro’s design one can see the difference of expression.

In the next article you can examine the next set of designs featuring a mistress and her secret lover.