Shunga / Oh Honey-Honey

Hey, did I ever tell you about the first time I looked at shunga and found it sorta creepy? No? Well then, let’s continue this week of Japanophilia with a little story.

Once I was in college, new to kink, and participating in a years-long, self-funded study of the parameters of my sexuality (i.e.: what volume of phase-space houses your desire, what kinds of weirdness turns you on). Being a nerd, and a poor one, the first place I looked was the arts & lit library on campus. It was a trove of important classics such as Lysistrata, Lolita, and Justine. There was also a book of erotic art that I remember perusing, and another volume that I bought later on.

Greek vases didn’t do a lot for me. The images were too monochromatic and the proportions were odd. I liked the Indian temple carvings. Everybody seemed happy and the women had such lovely spheric boobs. However, the erotic Japanese woodblock prints sort of scared me. I didn’t understand what was up with those big, hairy labia or those monstrous, veiny dongs. The subjects’ facial features were even more bizarre. Their long noses looked strange next to their tiny eyes and mouths.

Since then I have lived in Asia. I have also looked at plenty of art both here and abroad. Sunday’s peek at Hokusai prompted me to take another gander at shunga to see whether I had dismissed it too easily. Turns out I had. There are many beautiful, sexy ukiyo-e prints. Here are four five of what I would put on the roster if there was an awards-show:

2013 04 17 straightBest Straight: Utamaro Kitagawa – The Tea House

Back in the day, tea houses had private rooms that one could book to meet with a lover. The hidden faces of  this couple really stimulate my curiosity. How did this couple meet? What are they searching for in one another? Which skills do the lovers use to drive each other wild? One rumor says that the man pictured here is Utamro himself — is the other the love of his life?

2013 04 17 gayBest Gay: Unknown Artist – Title Unknown

The tag on this Wikimedia Commons image says it came from the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905). In addition to featuring yummy, well-endowed men in uniform, it is a fascinating example of propaganda. The Japanese soldier is pictured on top, literally and figuratively subjugating his enemy. The dialogue is also full of double-entendres. The Russian soldier says that he thinks he’s already dying. His counterpart responds with “I will finish you off now.” The text is written in katakana, indicating that everything is said loudly or with force, as real soldiers would. The bold lines and the bright colors are really well done.

There are so many mysteries in this image. Japanese woodblock printing is a time-consuming process; a lot of people had to collaborate to make this work (ahem!) come together. What did the artisans think of this piece as it was being made? Who was supposed to see the finished work? Was it distributed widely or collected in secret? Tell me, history, I need to know.

Best Lesbian: Eisen Kensai – Double-Sided Dildo

The dimensions of this image make it awkward to include here, but please click through and then click again to embiggen. See how the ladies’ faces are once again hidden? This adds an elicit aura to the work and really draws the eye to the areas revealed by their flowing robes. I love looking at all the things that are half-revealed in this piece or suggested with just a few clean lines.

Best Bi / Poly / Pan: Eisen Keisei – Unknown TItle (Featured image)

I’ll leave it to you to decide what is going on here. While you do that, I would like to thank the unknown author of  Homosexuality and Civilization for posting this.

Best BDSM: Utamaro Kitagawa — Oban yoko-e

Not an orientation, but an important category in any awards show. Note the position of the lady’s left hand. Looks like it’s being held there, doesn’t it?

2 responses to “Shunga / Oh Honey-Honey

  1. As much as I adore Utamaro and Hokusai’s prints, and have seen many of their erotic prints, but I was still quite shocked when I first saw those enormous (understatement) phalluses. No wonder we don’t see the women’s faces!

    • Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one. However, most shunga does show the woman’s face. The lesbian print and The Teahouse seem to be rare exceptions.

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