The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Contestant in beauty contest

A contestant in Japan's first beauty contest

A delicately hand-coloured albumen print showing one of the contestants in the 1891 Geisha competition held at the Ryounkaku, Tokyo.

Each of the 100 contestants in the competition was photographed against the same studio backdrop, with only slight alterations to the props. All the girls held a fan painted with the characters Ryounkaku, and the inscription is repeated on a folding fan in the background.

The series of photographs included portraits of all the contestants in the competition, which was held to mark the opening of the Ryounkaku, better known as the Twelve-Storey Tower, a landmark building in Asakusa. The Geisha came from the major pleasure quarters of Tokyo, including Shimbashi and Yoshiwara. Visitors were encouraged to vote on their particular favourite, with prizes awarded to the five most popular girls. The winner was the nineteen-year-old O-Tama who attracted the patronage of an anonymous admirer who paid for her release from the Tamagawaya Geisha house in Shimbashi. The event proved such a success that another contest was held in December of the following year.

Photographed by Kazumasa Ogawa (1860-1929), who opened a studio in Tokyo in 1884, and in 1888 started Japan's first collotype printing business. Original photographs from the Ogawa studio are rare, since most of the photographer’s time and effort were devoted to his successful collotype work.

Numbered 19 in the negative.

The print measures 10.2” by 8.2” (260 mm by 208 mm).


Code: 122217
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© Paul Frecker 2019