Striking Shunga Designs by the Celebrated Ukiyo-e Artist
a vast number of prints which included various subjects and themes such as bijin-ga (beautiful women), >
( warriors )
and kabuki-e (theatre actors). He was a student of
Toyokuni but soon liberated himself from his master’s
influence and created his own individual style.
(1786-1865) was one of the most prosperous and productive
Japanese artists of the nineteenth century, designing
was in his thirties he started to work in >
picture, erotic print) and designed his best work in this
genre during that time. He paid a lot of attention to the
details and objects surrounding the scenes as
can be seen in his portrayal of the clothing, the
characteristic hair-styles of the protagonists, the luxurious
screens and sliding doors, porcelain vases, flowers, plates of food and
the vividly colored quilts. Kunisada’s emphasis on these
minutely rendered details help to create a rich and realistic
also can be said about his treatment of exterior scenes which
are depicted with a detailed naturalism to accentuate the
changing seasons or to present famous
places that are familiar to the Japanese public. In Kunisada’s
de luxe limited editions, his erotic prints were embroidered
using silver and gold dust.mother of pearl and applying karazuri
(blind embossing) and tsuyazumi (lacquer) printing
The following ten
are some of his most striking examples:
In 1837, under the pseudonym Bukiyo Matahei, Kunisada designed some masterful shunga images parodying the famous work Satomi Hakken-den of Kyokutei Bakin. It was a collaboration work with author Hanagasa Bunkyo and was called Koi no yatsu fuji (The Love of Yatsufuji). The protagonists of the story Princess Sasehime and the canine hero Yatsubusa are depicted by Kunisada in an overt manner in all its explicity as can be seen in the above image.
The highly quality of the carving and the printing technique
in this print is accentuated by the detailed embossing on the
The metallic pigment details on the woman’s kimono are
From the same series as the
previous piece, here a violent heavily tattooed intruder
assaults a couple who were shortly before making love
cunnilingus on her. On this work Kunisada collaborated with
Shotei Kinsui (1795-1862) who wrote under the pseudonym Nyokan.
There are wonderful
gauffrage details on the fur of the fox and the kimono of the
This magnificent surrealistic
scene from the series An Assortment of Pleasure in Spring
(c.1850) portrays a woman in an ecstatic pose while a fox
– are outside. Although she is aware of what she does, the
status of her sexual act, sectioned off from her head, seems
dreamlike, for mental and
bodily zones do not match. Pictorially, she is doing nothing
A humorous scene with a woman,
partly covered under a mosquito-net, being penetrated by a
secret lover while her husband is in a deep sleep. Theseries
is called Viewing Forms in the Four Seasons and was
published in 1842. In his book Sex and the Floating World
– Erotic Images in Japan 1700-1820. Timon Screech
remarks,’...the viewer sees a woman’s head (and mind)
still in bed with her rightful prtner, while her genitals –
divided by the
intercourse in the seclusion of their home while startled by
the flying geese outside. The man sports a giant tattoo
depicting a scene from the famous
Chinese saga 108 Heroes of the Suikoden (put on the map
by Kuniyoshi) and the woodblock prints pasted on the wall
behind them feature two
kabuki actors. One of them the well-known Matsumoto Koshiro V.
The image is treated in several books on shunga.
A famous Kunisada print from
the erotic series Prospects for the Four Seasons (Shunka
shuto shiki no nagame), c.1820s, features a husband and
(Sentõ shinwa) who explore ‘genital mountains’.
The author of this book was Jujitei Sanku.
An early Kunisada work (c.1827)
featuring the adventures of the fantasy figures Beanman and
Beanwoman from the New Tale of the Welling
to a stick while a hairy assailant slowly
enters her. The desolate environment and the woman’s
inescapability of her destiny give this scene a
harrowing atmosphere. The moon as a silent witness in the
background. A haunting masterpiece from the Prospects for
the Four Seasons -series.
One of Kunisada’s most
disturbing shunga images. During the night on a hill a
gruelling affair takes place. A woman is tied down with ropes
masterpiece Genji of the East dating
from 1837. This specific print has been depicted in Calza’s
book on shunga Poem of the Pillow and Other
Stories (p.402). This work was most probably commisioned
by a rich merchant.
An older monk is having sex
with an ecstatic wetnurse who passionately grabs him by the
nose. A design from Kunisada’s acclaimed
combination with the masturbation theme is rather unique. The
viewer almost gets the impression he is peeking on her.
Another exquisite design from
the Genji of the East –series with a woman
masturbating in the privacy of her room. The format of the
cleaning activities. The naked squatting woman
holds a small bag in her mouth while cleaning her genitals and
doing her laundry at the same time. The
shadowing details of the cloths hanging over the door are an
indication of the Western influences on Kunisada and his
Another impression of this design is illustrated in Fagioli’s
book Shunga, the Erotic Art of Japan (on p.139).
A lovely Kunisada scene of the Prospects
for the Four Seasons –series. In a bathhouse two ladies
have an intimate gathering during their
Boschian scene which has been recently attributed to Kunisada
and is described in the exhibition catalogue of the British
Kunisada created so many
marvellous shunga designs, the list could easily have
consisted of 50 images or more, that I have included the
steered shunga in strange directions, mobilizing monsters,
ghosts and corpses, and we can see that this trend
conciously harked back to the work of
Shunsho and the Katsukawa school. In his first erotic book
Hyakki yagyo (Night Procession of One
Hundred Demons) of 1825, Kunisada included an image entitled
Hakuki yakyo yokai no zu, which features all the same monsters
found in Shunsho’s Hyaku bobo-gatari. It
is not possible to gauge the intention of Kunisada or the
author (Utei Enba II) in reusing Shunsho’s
inventions in this way. But the impact was clear: in the case
of both Katsukawa and Utagawa-school works, these grotesque,
fantastical characters served as the
catalyst that transformed the shunga genre”. (on p.377
in Shunga, Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art
by Ishigami Aki)
All the prints discussed in the
article are available in our gallery and can be found on the
here for more info on Kunisada’s Genji of the East-series.
here for more info on Kunisada’s New Tale of the Welling
Waters and Prospects for the Four Seasons-series.
here for more on info on Kunisada’s Viewing Forms in the
here for more info on Kunisada’s The Love of Yatsufuji-series.
here for more info on Kunisada’s An Assortment of
Pleasure in Spring-series.
Or click here for more articles on shunga and ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints)shunga and ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints).