Shunga: Erotic Art in Japan - NMS Research Repository
Skip to main content
Shared Research Repository

Shunga: Erotic Art in Japan

9 September 2010


This intriguing introduction to Japanese erotic art, known as shunga, is full of humour and human interest. A large quantity of paintings, handscrolls, prints and illustrated books of erotica was produced in Japan between 1600 and 1900. As urban culture expanded rapidly during the seventeenth century, erotic woodblock prints were in demand, first as books then as print series. From the 1760s printed works, produced using full-colour woodblock technology, constitute some of the finest examples of art-printing in Japan, using sumptuous materials and special printing effects. This book includes pictures by some of the most renowned artists, such as Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806) and Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), who produced erotic imagery as a standard part of their work. When creating erotica, artists usually played on sexual situations in everyday life: a wife catches her husband seducing a maid, a couple are spied on by a curious servant, and mice start copulating in imitation of the humans. Japanese erotic art was characterised by exaggeration and fantasy and, as one verse-writer warns, 'The foolish couple copy shunga and pull a muscle'. There was frequent recourse to satire and parody, often in defiance of contemporary censorship and sumptuary regulations. The background scripts, many translated here for the first time, are irreverent and amusing. The erotic encounters depicted in shunga reflect multiple perspectives – male, female, heterosexual and same-sex. This book examines this under-explored area of Japanese culture, and is fully illustrated with fascinating images from the rich collections of the British Museum, many of which have never been published before. With 140 colour illustrations. Contents Preface and acknowledgements Picturing sex in Japan, 1600–1900 Features of shunga Patterns of sensual pleasure: from luxury paintings to popular prints, 1600–1750 Poem of the Pillow: masterpieces of the late eighteenth century Erotic adventures: heightened drama in the nineteenth century Chronology Glossary Notes Further reading Illustration acknowledgements Index


This is a metadata only record.