A lot of Japanese artists designed erotic prints (shunga). Apart from explicit depictions of sexual activities, shunga may contain several layers of meaning including all kinds of hidden messages which requires an experienced eye and a thorough knowledge of Japanese literature, poetry and historical past.
The characters depicted in shunga represent the whole spectrum of Japan’s society. Its cast exists from nobleman to farmers, from excited housewives to high-class courtesans, from foreigners to monks, from warriors to kabuki actors, but also the tattooed members of the working-class participated in this esoteric community. The following 10 are some colourful examples:
Flying Geese – Utagawa Kunisada
This plate comes from an costly erotic picture book, a three-volume work called Prospects for the Four Seasons, which probably was commissioned by a wealthy merchant. A couple is involved in a vigorous love-making session. On his back the man sports a tattoo of one of the Suikoden heroes. On the wall behind them two woodblock prints have been pasted, with one of them portraying the well-known kabuki actor Matsumoto Koshiro V. The couple seems to be distracted by the noise of the flying geese which can be seen through the window.
In the Bedroom – Utagawa Kuniyoshi
A shunga scene designed by the great Kuniyoshi in a similar composition as the previous print by Kunisada. The woman is partly covered by her blue kimono with gourd plants decorations. The man is almost naked except for the red loincloth. On his back he has a very detailed tattoo, showing the poetess Ono no Komachi , who was one of Japan’s six immortal poets. The depicted scene of the tattoo comes from an episode in Komachi’s legendary life known as the Praying for Rain Komachi. The title of Kuniyoshi’s shungabook is called The Female Treasure Ship and was published in 1853. In this image the distraction of their passionate encounter is intentionally unclear.
Sashichi and Koito – Utagawa School
The sisters Ofusa and Koito, were two well-known protagonists from Japanese classical literature and music. In this tale they are involved in a love-triangle with the tattooed dandy Sashichi who was Ofusa’s husband. A design (c1850s) in the small koban format with strongly visible embossing.
Crowded Pleasure-Quarter – Yanagawa Shigenobu
From Shigenobu’s Floating Bridge of Heaven (1830) a scene taking the viewer to the crowded quarters of clandestine brothels. In these kind of occasions there was no privacy and almost no room for prostitutes and their clients, at best they were divided by a sliding door or folding screen.
Four Seasons – Utagawa Kunisada
Another design (see first print!) from Kunisada’s Four Seasons series with a courtesan and her tattooed client. The man is penetrating the woman while using his thumb to stimulate the tantric massage hong kong woman’s clitoris. It’s like the mosquito-net above them has been pulled up for the beholder to get a better view. The series was published late 1820s.
Eating – Utagawa Toyokuni I
An almost completely tattooed man (except for his face) is having intercourse with his woman and is eating from a bowl at the same time. The woman is holding a cup of sake while keeping a hairpin in her mouth. Their sexual activities seem to be of minor importance.
Mosquito Net – Utagawa Kunisada
An intimate couple is violently disturbed by a tattooed intruder. The invader is holding the husband underneath the mosquito-net while grapping the woman’s kimono who’s trying to flee. A famous image from Kunisada’s The Eight Dog Heroes of the Satomi Clan (1837).
Suikoden Warrior – Kuniyoshi School
In this parodic scene (c.1840s) on Kuniyoshi’s celebrated Suikoden series the Suikoden hero Kyumonryo Shishin (Chinese name: Shi Jin) takes a woman from behind while using his inseparable pole as an accessory.
Praying – Takeda Hideo
A silkscreen print design by Takeda Hideo (1948-present) displaying a pointed-headed man, tattooed with an atrocious shishi (guardian lions in Ancient China) heads and peony flowers, devotedly praying with the woman kneeling in a tempting pose. She’s tattooed from her back to her heels with spectacular depictions of a blueish green Fudo (‘The Immovable’) surrounded by flames, dragons, carps set against a blue background. The print is entitled Praying to Fudo Myo-o from the series Monmon (a term used for tattoo in Osaka) and was made in 1976.