Source: British Museum

Shunga: The Erotic Art Of Old Japan

Shunga(春画), which translates to "Spring Pictures", refers to erotic art from early Japan (1600's-1800's), usually depicted in the form of ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

While these prints were enjoyed by the common people, the Shogunate issued orders on more than one occasion to suppress the proliferation of lewd art and printing. There has been a lasting impact regarding availability of these prints due that censorship, but the Eisei Bunko Museum in Japan is looking to remove the veil with an exhibition that will put 122 prints on display.

Obviously, the material is erotic and graphic in nature. With the availability of adult-themed comic books, erotic game software, and seemingly transparent prostitution, Japan has long been the recipient of a "kinky" stereotype in foreign countries.

It's ultimately your call if you buy into the merit of that or not, but these prints offer some insight into the use of eroticism as a subject for artwork, particularly in the hedonistic fantasy world created by the ukiyo-e style. Here are some of the featured works, along with comments from a curator at The British Museum.

Pine Seedlings on the First Rat Day (Katsushika Hokusai)


Source: British Museum

Easily the most eye-grabbing is what looks to be a possible origin of tentacle porn. It definitely gravitates towards the more bizarre end of Shunga, and while people may wonder where the fascination with tentacled creatures pleasuring a woman comes from, the curator offers some insight to a possible source, stating:

The idea for the pairing of octopus and diving woman was not original to Hokusai. Some thirty years earlier the artist Kitao Shigemasa (1739–1820) drew a similar combination in his erotic book Yo-kyoku iro bangumi (Programme of Erotic Noh Plays) of 1781 (Shunga, cat. 90), where the context was the ancient Taishokan tale of the diver woman who stole a jewel from the Dragon King’s Palace at the bottom of the sea.

Book of Acolytes (Unknown)


Source: British Museum

The curator makes particular note of this printing, as "this scroll is direct evidence for the practice of affective and sexual relations between mature monks and acolytes, which was quite widespread in Buddhist temples in Japan in the medieval period (sex between monks and women was more strictly forbidden)."


Source: British Museum

Pipe (Suzuki Harunobu)


Source: British Museum

Risqué picture of the Tale of Genji (Keisai Eisen)


Source: British Museum


Source: British Museum

Twelve Tastes in the Classification of Passion (Katsukawa Shuncho)


Source: British Museum

Untitled erotic picture (Sugimura Jihei)


Source: British Museum

By - grape Japan editorial staff.