Oatsurae in ukiyo-e

In the early days of ukiyo-e artists, experimented with different types of background to give their characters better prominence and increate their visual impact. One solution to this problem was to use simple fabrics with geometric patterns as a background, which could be quite easy for the carvers to produce and would bring a familiar, colourful object to the scene. The are oatsurae, from the Japanese word for simple purchased goods.

Here are some of my favourite examples – a gorgeous 1867 pentatych by Kunichika:

Next, beautiful geometric patterns have been used to bring a splash of colour to a play (Kirare Yosa) that isn’t know for its dramatic backgrounds. 

Nakamura Nakazō III, Ichikawa Danjūrō IX, Onoe Taganojō II & Arashi Rikan IV in the play “Yowa Nasake Ukina no Yokogushi” (Kirare Yosa, Yosa the Bat), July 1885

Here again oatsurae is used to add a splash of colour to the background and lift the performers out of their scene. 

Ichikawa Shinjurō, Sawamura Hyakunosuke & Ichikawa Gonjūrō I in a performance of the play “Kanadehon Chūshingura” 仮名手本忠臣蔵 (Treasurehouse of Loyal Retainers aka 47 Ronin) act VII performed from June 1880

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