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10 Erotic Shunga Designs Featuring 'Barbaric' Westerners.


Few Japanese of the 18th and 19th Century travelled abroad and fewer returned, so that a rendez-vous with strangers was only possible in their own homeland. Nagasaki had a rather international atmosphere, with its section of Chinese and a limited group of Europeans and their enslaved Indonesian servants. > Shunga  fans were interested in these residents, and all are portrayed (though in unequal frequency) in images and stories. The following ten are colourful and striking examples (in no particular order):

10) Chõkyõsai Eiri ( act. 1789~1801 )






         Chõkyõsai Eiri ( act. 1789-1801 )

This Eiri design from his Models of Calligraphy (c.1801) was inspired by > Utamaro's  masterpiece (see No.2) Utamakura (Poem of the Pillow) and features a Dutchman (most probably a Dutch Captain) having intercourse with a Japanese courtesan. These prostitutes were known as Oranda-yuki ('those going to the Dutch'), as opposed to the Kara-yuki ('those going to the Chinese') and the Nihon-yuki ('those going to the Japanese').

Incense burns on a table next to them. Some Japanese believed that this was necessary because of the funny smell these red-haired barbarians produced but in reality these incense burners were cleverly sold by the Yotsumeya, a shop specializing in sex paraphernalia, as an enhancer of the sexual appetite. Striking in this desgin are the Western influences emulating the tone effect of Western copperplate engraving.


Yanagawa Shigenobu ( 1787-1832 )

9) Yanagawa Shigenobu ( 1787~1832 )







In this distinguishing surimono print (c.1830) Shigenobu depicts his protagonists, a Western couple, as god-like figures (the woman is stunningly beautiful) set in a heavenly setting. Underneath the genitals of the woman vaginal fluids are collected on a plate. The inevitable incense burner on a small table in the background.


8) Keisai Eisen ( 1790~1848 )









      Keisai Eisen ( 1790-1848 )

This design from > Keisai Eisen's  series' Midare Gami (Hair in Disarray / Tangled Hair)', c. 1817, depicts a Dutchman coupling with his wife and is one of the early applications of the tone effects of Western copperplate engraving in shunga. Also striking is the rich color gradation of the female's clothing.


Kitagawa Utamaro ( 1753-1806 )

7) Kitagawa Utamaro ( 1753~1806 )









A very early rendering by Utamaro (c.1790s) of a Westerner making love to a Japanese courtesan. A comic detail is the motif on the Dutchman's green suit which also appears on his phallus while the pubic hair resembles the hair on his head. Just like in Eiri's design (see No.1 !) the hands of this European stranger have long cat-like fingernails.


6) Katsushika Hokusai ( 1760~1849 )







Katsushika Hokusai ( 1760-1849 )

From > Hokusai's  famous Young Pine Saplings -series (c.1814) the depiction of a Chinese couple collecting vaginal liquids with a ladle. The man is wearing a ring around his penis called namako no wa. The belief that the Western strangers, Chinese as well as Europeans, were very enthusiastic on gathering vaginal liquids for medicinal or other uses, was very popular in Edo (nowadays Tokyo) Japan.


Yanagawa Shigenobu ( 1787-1832 )

5) Yanagawa Shigenobu ( 1787~1832 )








This composition of a Western couple from the ' Willow Storm ' -series, late 1820s is unique within shunga, not only for the subject-matter but also for the attempts at shading, most likely in imitation of Western copperplate etching. It is interesting to speculate about which Western examples circulating in Japan at the time would have provided the inspiration for this print. Perhaps they were prints based on the drawings in or later eighteenth century imitations of Il Modo by Giulio Romano (1499-1546).


4) Yanagawa Shigenobu ( 1787~1832 )






Yanagawa Shigenobu ( 1787-1832 )

This truly astonishing shunga is archetypal of the print designs in Shigenobu's album Willow Storm. It represents an event already known in the work of Katsushika Hokusai (see No.6 !) - the acquiring of vaginal liquids. The tiny feet of the woman and the curled plait on top of the man's head emphasize their Chinese origin.


    Utagawa Kuniyoshi ( 1797-1861 )

3) Utagawa Kuniyoshi ( 1797~1861 )







A small koban print from the Utagawa school (possibly Utagawa Kuniyoshi) published c.1861. The square cartouche in the upper right displays the English flag of Saint George, gehind whoch is a puff of steam, presumably from a steam engine. The three fully clad foreign girls accost a Japanese man, and the text, printed in negative (white on grey), in the bottom left corner reads, 'Isn't it too much, can't I have a break?' (Lane and hayashi 1995-98/2000: supplemental vol.1,132). Although this print concerns a shunga design it's not explicit in its portrayal; only a subtle insinuation of one of the women's pubic hair.


2) Kitagawa Utamaro ( 1753~1806 )







   Kitagawa Utamaro ( 1753-1806 )

In this rather unflattering image of an intimate Dutch couple > Utamaro  depicts the man as a rude barbarian (the hat suggests he could be a captain) with almost cannibalistic tendencies. Or as described by Timon Screech in his 'Sex and the Floating World ' : "...a wind-blown seadog with a woman seemingly of his own ethnic group although dressed in the costume of a different epoch". This oban print is from Utamaro's 'Poem of the Pillow' - series (c.1799) which is considered to be one of the great highlights in shunga and Ukiyo-e.


Keisai Eisen ( 1790-1848 )

1) Keisai Eisen ( 1790~1848 )







A Westerner penetrates a sleeping courtesan who's laying with her head on a salon table. In front of the couple on the floor lays a sachet containing an aphrodisiac for women called nyoetsugan. This egoyomi (calendar print) design is meticulously printed with various gauffrage and pigment details, published in c.1810s and attributed to the artist Keisai Eisen (1790-1848).


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