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Shunga: Erotic Art in Japan

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That nudity as such was nothing that would arouse much interest in Edo Japan also led the woodcarvers to dress the protagonists in their pictures in dramatically arranged kimonos during their sex acts. Elaborate dressing revealing nothing but the center of the action was their way of presentation. Men with the means to afford it often had concubines aside from their wives, and young folks fell in love and ran away with the maid they met in the hostel where they stayed – Japanese literature is awash with such stories. Eishi Chobunsai: Contest of Passion in the Four Seasons (1789-1801) Shunga Styles and Content The people depicted ranged from noblemen to samurai to kabuki actors to just regular people such as merchants and farmers. Very common was the portrayal of prostitutes at their work with their customers. Virtually no stratum of society was excluded. Full-colour printing, or nishiki-e, developed around 1765, but many shunga prints predate this. Prior to this, colour was added to monochrome prints by hand, and from 1744 benizuri-e allowed the production of prints of limited colours. Even after 1765 many shunga prints were produced using older methods. In some cases this was to keep the cost low, but in many cases this was a matter of taste.

Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art (Catalogue of the big shunga exhibition at the British Museum in London 2013) On the other hand, no artists are known today who produced only shunga. Shunga were not the work of specialized pornographers. Sex was considered a natural part of life in Edo Japan and the production of erotic images reflected this point of view. Katsushika Hokusai: Gods of Myriad Conjugal Delights (1821) Sex in Edo Times


Timothy Clark et al. (eds). Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art (London: British Museum Press, 2013). ISBN 978-0-714-12476-6. When two women were playing together [the harigata] was worn around the hips: when one woman was enjoying it alone, she tied it to her ankle. Here the woman wearing the dildo holds a shell-shaped container holding some kind of cream. [The inscription] says, ‘ Seeing as we’re going to do it like this, I’ll put lots of the cream on it. So really make yourself come. Without the cream this big one would not go in.’ … The other woman puts a hand up to the dildo and urges her friend, ‘ Hurry up and put it in. I want to come. I want to come five or six times without stopping’. This is not strictly speaking a lesbian encounter. In the Edo period it was widely believed that dildos were used by ladies-in-waiting in the women’s quarters of samurai mansions. They were necessary because this was a world without men, rather than being an expression of affective love between women. But were dildos really in widespread use among ladies-in-waiting in the Edo period? Surely this is, rather, ‘the world of the lady-in-waiting as imagined by common townspeople’. 9 The British Museum, Object: Fumi no kiyogaki 婦美の清書き (Neat Version of a Love Letter (or Pure Drawings of Female Beauty) (Neat Version of a Love Letter (or Pure Drawings of Female Beauty)), , date accessed 6 Mar. 2022.

When Japan opened towards the West during the Meiji Restoration (in the late 1860s) Westerners were often given shunga as presents. While the Japanese considered shunga treasured gifts, many Westerners rejected them. They were puritans of the Victorian age, after all. The protagonists all appear to be enjoying themselves and there is little or no depiction of coercion. Katsushika Hokusai: The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife (1814) But shunga were a popular mainstay and an important part of itinerant book lenders’ business. They would go to a house, show the books available, lend out the ones desired and recollect them after an agreed period of time. At the time, that was most likely the most common way to enjoy shunga. Men and women were both eager customers. Lesser known is that the ukiyo-e concept of covering almost all aspects of contemporary life included both the real and the artistically imagined sex life of Edo Japan. Those pictures are known under the name shunga (which translates to “Spring Pictures”).

Shunga was heavily influenced by illustrations in Chinese medicine manuals beginning in the Muromachi era (1336 to 1573). Zhou Fang, a notable Tang-dynasty Chinese painter, is also thought to have been influential. He, like many artists of his time, tended to draw genital organs in an oversized manner, similar to a common shunga topos. Besides " shunga" literally meaning a picture of spring (sex), the word is also a contraction of shunkyū-higi-ga (春宮秘戯画), the Japanese pronunciation for a Chinese set of twelve scrolls depicting the twelve sexual acts that the crown prince would perform as an expression of yin yang. [1] Both painted handscrolls and illustrated erotic books (empon) often presented an unrelated sequence of sexual tableaux, rather than a structured narrative. A whole variety of possibilities are shown—men seduce women, women seduce men; men and women cheat on each other; all ages from virginal teenagers to old married couples; even octopuses were occasionally featured. [1] The art of shunga provided an inspiration for the Shōwa (1926–1989) and Heisei (1989–2019) art in Japanese video games, anime and manga known in the Western world as hentai and known formally in Japan as jū hachi kin (adult-only, literally "18-restricted"). Like shunga, hentai is sexually explicit in its imagery.

Shunga were produced between the sixteenth century and the nineteenth century by ukiyo-e artists, since they sold more easily and at a higher price than their ordinary work. Shunga prints were produced and sold either as single sheets or—more frequently—in book form, called enpon. These customarily contained twelve images, a tradition with its roots in Chinese shunkyu higa. Shunga was also produced in hand scroll format, called kakemono-e (掛け物絵). This format was also popular, though more expensive as the scrolls had to be individually painted.

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After 1722 most artists refrained from signing shunga works. However, between 1761 and 1786 the implementation of printing regulations became more relaxed, and many artists took to concealing their name as a feature of the picture (such as calligraphy on a fan held by a courtesan) or allusions in the work itself (such as Utamaro's empon entitled Utamakura). [1] Content [ edit ] Shunga were produced by the same artists who also worked in other fields of ukiyo-e. Some of the most famous shunga were drawn for example by Hokusai when he took a break from studying Mount Fuji from all its angles. a b c d e f Screech, Timon (1999). Sex and the Floating World. London: Reaktion Books. pp.13–35. ISBN 1-86189-030-3. Works depicting courtesans have since been criticised for painting an idealised picture of life in the pleasure quarters. It has been argued that they masked the situation of virtual slavery under which sex workers lived. [9] However, Utamaro is just one example of an artist who was sensitive to the inner life of the courtesan, for example showing them wistfully dreaming of escape from Yoshiwara through marriage. [8]

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