2. Who was the audience for these prints?
Utamaros prints are for male viewers. They are idealizations of women for a male audience and created by a male mind. The women are objects of a male gaze. The audience was, for the most part, an urban commoner audience.
At the time, Japanese society was divided into four status groups. At the top were the samurai who were responsible for governing the society. The next tier in the hierarchy were the farmers or peasants who were responsible for agriculture. The lowest two tiers were the artisans and the merchants, and they would reside in the cities. Even though technically they were at the bottom of the hierarchy, in reality, many of the merchants became very wealthy.
The city of Edo had a district that was outside of the city proper at the time, and it was positioned there intentionally by the authorities so as to move immorality outside of the urban space. Its within these pleasure quarters that the urban commoner culture really developed and flourished. The artists and printmakers were living within these pleasure quarters, and the women depictedthe teahouse waitresses and the courtesanswere participants in this culture.
Within that urban population it was the artisans and the merchants who were both the subject and the audience for the prints. These were not necessarily for a highly literate audience. Whats really significant here is that a very broad audience is participating in the viewing, creation, and consumption of this shared body of knowledge. The shared set of assumptions and reference points prevailed not only among elites, but also among the general population as well.