“From a first glance it seems as if an embrace and oversized genitals are the only ‘subjects’ of the ‘Shunga’ prints.
The erotic aspect was important on many levels: to stimulate the senses and to entertain, and also – perhaps surprisingly – to educate young women about sexuality.
The scene of the embrace certainly attracted the attention of print buyers at the time, as it does today’s visitors. It is however very interesting to look at the details other than those of Eros such as the small frame elements, the real message of the artist.
The Shunga in fact are an insight into the Japanese society of that period: the faces, kimonos, furniture, the tea rituals, the passing of the seasons and the landscapes. They are details that illustrate aspects of a rich bourgeois that wanted to enjoy life on many fronts.
The Shunga also sometimes depict domestic and family scenes, but more than anything it is the world of the rich bourgeoisie that is represented, fashionable life with the interiors of the “green houses”, the closed houses of the geisha and of the oiran that were very clean, elegant and orderly”.
Art and Eros in the Edo Period in Japan
“When the chaos began to condense but the powers and the form were not yet clear, nothing had a name and nothing was yet done. Who knew what aspect it would have? The sky and the land divided, and the gods began work. […] The celestial gods commanded the couple Izanagi and Izanami to create, consolidate and give life to the floating land of Japan. They were given a lance and began to mix with it. They stirred the water of the ocean until it became dense, then they raised the lance and the water that dripped from it [representing ejaculation – Ed.] became an island. […] Izanagi asked Izanami: What is your body like? She replied: My body is growing and flourishes, but a part of it is not growing. Izanagi said to her: My body is also growing but there is a part that is growing too much. It seems right to put the excess part of my body into the part of your body that is not growing, and create land. Izanami replied: I agree.”
(Futo no Yasumaro, Kojiki, 1)
“Scoundrel of a priest that I am,
always singing my “Little love song”
Always drunk with wine and pleasure/drunk with poetry.
The authority of the abbot into the nettles
I throw it back to the temple;
I prefer my flute, even if not many
recognize the tone”.
“To this withered and naked tree/you are a new Spring:/with flourishing branches an explosion of flowers/an ancient promise renews itself./If I were to ever forget the festival/of your generosity/I should be reborn through the centuries as a beast”.