Japan: 1820-1830s (late Edo period). One large hanging scroll, signed and sealed "Jippensha Ikku" (unfurled: 1620 x 330 mm; 63" x 13"). Original thin Japanese paper backed and mounted on thicker paper in the maru-hyoso style. Browning and darkening, creases (one is significant, for which SEE IMAGES), light stains, original paper with losses, mostly in the blank margins (SEE IMAGES), some repairs. Housed in a plain wooden box tied with red ribbon (415 x 65 x 60 mm; 16.25" x 2.5" x 2.25"), small piece inside box lid missing. Item #4075
RARE AND FASCINATING PAINTED SCROLL OF TWO "GOZE" (VISUALLY-IMPAIRED JAPANESE WOMEN MUSICIANS). HIGHLY ORGANIZED AND STRICTLY REGULATED GOZE WORKERS' ASSOCATIONS EMERGED IN THE 17TH CENTURY AND SPREAD THROUGHOUT JAPAN. NOW LITTLE KNOWN (ESPECIALLY IN WESTERN CULTURES), THESE EXTREMELY EARLY "UNIONS" AFFORDED VISUALLY IMPAIRED WOMEN AN UNPRECEDENTED DEGREE OF INDEPENDENCE AND PROTECTION.
Goze travelled from village to village, entertaining audiences by singing and playing a three-stringed instrument known as shamisen (as seen in our scroll). While some Goze were paid to sing and entertain in brothels, they were not sex workers; indeed Goze rules required the woman to remain celibate while maintaining the highest degree of moral standards and social etiquette. This was done in order to preserve the honor and dignity of Goze as a legitimate, officially sanctioned trade. Membership in a professional Goze association gave the woman a respected position in society, allowing her to travel unharassed from village to village (and even to spend the night in local homes), unlike itinerant prostitutes or female vagabonds, who did so at their peril.
In order to become a full-fledged Goze, a visually impaired girl underwent an extremely strict education which involved learning thousands of songs. "She was also taught how to comport herself like a professional musician, tutored in the location of lodges on the road, and instructed in other matters that facilitated the pursuit of her career." (SOURCE: Gerald Groemer, Goze: Women, Musical Performance, and Visual Disability in Traditional Japan, 2016, p. 83 and passim).
We know of very few 17th- or 18th-century workers' unions for women, visually impaired or otherwise.
Our painted scroll features two Goze clutching their shamisen; a seal reads "Yaji, Kita" -- abbreviated references to the bumbling travellers (Yarijobē and Kitahachi) of Jippensha Ikku's comic picaresque novel "Tōkaidōchū Hizakurige" (or "Shank's Mare"). The novel was a bestseller in the Edo period. In it, Yaji and Kita saunter along the Tōkaidō Road, primarily interested in food, sake, and women. Depicted here are the two Goze who appear in second part of Vol. IV of the Tōkaidōchū. It is not surprising that Yaji and Kita would encounter Goze on their travels. Groemer explains: "Most of goze life was spent traveling. From shortly after New Year’s Goze began to circulate from house to house to wish everyone a happy new year and to collect a few coins. After the snow began to melt, Goze undertook tours to more distant regions. In each village they first went from door to door, collecting a small gratuity for singing short songs. Later they performed a concert that normally included long pieces known as danmono or saimon matsuzaka. Such concerts took place at the home of the village head or some other family" (ibid, p. 120).
"After World War II, with the expansion of the welfare service for the disabled and the enhancement of education in schools for the blind, the culture of Gozes came to be recognized as the relics of the pre-modern times and the fact that there is no successor for it is also considered as the inevitabilities of history. With the passing of Haru Kobayashi (1900-2005), who was known as the last Goze, the culture of Gozes that had been maintained by visually-impaired people disappeared from Japanese society in the 21st century. However, is it acceptable that the Goze culture be forgotten completely?" (SOURCE: Kojiro Hirose, "Hands of a Goze: The Tactile Culture of Visually-impaired People in Modern Japan" at the Yale Council on East Asian Studies 2014 Colloquium, online).
Our scroll is SIGNED AND SEALED BY THE AUTHOR JIPPENSHA IKKU (1765-1831). We have been unable to determine if the present scroll was actually painted by him: scrolls bearing his name appeared not only in the Edo period but also in the Meiji period.