Paul Frecker
Fine Photographs


A contestant in Japan’s first beauty contest, 1891
Kazumasa Ogawa

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 portraits was commissioned as a record 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.

Condition: the print presents a few small imperfections but is otherwise in excellent condition; the delicate hand-colouring is as fresh as the day it was done.

Dimensions: the print measures 10.2” by 8.2” (26 cm by 20.8 cm) and is mounted on a slightly larger, cut-down section of an album page, which as been neatly split from its reverse.

price:  £500
code: cat017
beauty contest, Japan, Japanese, Kazumasa Ogawa, Ogawa, Ryounkaku, geisha, geishas, Tokyo