Shunga in the Meiji era: the end of a tradition - NMS Research Repository
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Journal article

Shunga in the Meiji era: the end of a tradition

2013

Abstract

This article examines the final period of shunga, customarily defined as erotic imagery produced by the woodblock-printing technique. It takes up artists who continued the earliest traditions of shunga (such as Kawanabe Kyosai and Tsukioka Yoshitishi) and those who developed new modes (among them, Tomioka Eisen). The new Meiji administration was anxious to suppress material it deemed inappropriate, and new censorship legislation was introduced in 1872. However, the clandestine production and sale of shunga continued until the early 1900s. As was always the case, quality varies, but the best Meiji era shunga is distinguished by fine draughtsmanship and deluxe printing effects. As part of modernization, women gained new, more visible roles in society and these were quickly taken up as characters in shunga. Japan's engagement in hostilities with first China and then Russia provided the impetus for the further production of erotica to supply to troops. Yet, by this point such material was seen as a potential embarrassment to the nation, and its suppression thereafter intensified. At the same time, the shifting role of the naked body within visual culture had a major impact on shunga, and rival technologies, such as photography and lithography, were supplanting woodblock-printing. The result was the emergence of a new genre of sex-related imagery, which, when compared with shunga, is marked by its directly explicit nature and a lack of humour.

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