Happily, my visit to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco coincided with the opening weekend of "Seduction", a show that explores the aesthetic delights of the "floating world" - the term that came to mean the pleasure quarters of a city, such as the Yoshiwara in Edo (modern-day Tokyo).
The starting point of the exhibition is a handscroll by Hishikawa Moronobu (d. 1694), "A Visit to the Yoshiwara". Rich in social detail, the scroll is displayed unrolled to its full length, with excellent captions explaining each scene and highlighting individual objects that feature later in the exhibition.
The show is spread across two galleries. The first section is focused more on the floating world as an artistic construct, perpetuating the myth of the Yoshiwara as the ultimate escapist/erotic fantasy. There are many jewel-like paintings of courtesans, of the sort executed as expensive commissions for the wealthy.
The second section looks at themes of costume and disguise, with plenty of material on the ultra-popular Kabuki theatre. What I really loved, though, were the textiles - sumptuous robes in glorious colours, with an explosion of decorative detail. Strictly, these were not courtesans' outfits (few of which survive) but they give us a flavour of what true luxury looked like.
Seduction: Japan's Floating World
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA
20 February to 10 May 2015
Above: Outer robe with wisteria and stylized waves. 1750-1850. Silk satin, silk, and couched gold thread embroidery. John C. Weber Collection. Image at http://archive.artsmia.org/weber-collection/preview.html.