Shunga (erotic art) (春画)

Shunga (erotic arts) is a kind of ukiyoe (Japanese woodblock prints) that portrayed sexual culture (especially the scenes of sexual intercourse between the sexes or the same sex) that was in fashion in the Edo period. It was also referred to as waraie (a laugh picture), makurae (a pillow picture), makura-soshi (a pillow book), higa (pornographic picture) and wajirushi (lit. "wa" mark).
Also, more moderate picture was referred to as abunae (lit. a dangerous picture)

The description was not always realistic; often the size of the genitals were exaggeratingly described.

It was considered that the shunga has its origin in Bocchujutsu (sexual art) that was introduced with Chinese medical books. In Japan, in the early Heian period, it is said that there was an picture known as ensokuzu, osozuzu, or osokuzu-no-e (erotic picture) that portrayed sexual theme, such as the "Kokon chomon ju" (a collection of Tales Heard, Past and Present). However, the term 'ensokuzu' itself has its origin in China.

From the Muromachi period to the Edo period, it became popular among common people and depicted by the painters. It was used as a kind of good luck charm, especially the makurae picture scroll was used for a sexual manual for a bride. However, because it was hand painting, the shunga was still for the upper class.

In the Momoyama period, Drawings for Secret Plays in a Bedchamber was introduced from the Ming Dynasty and published. It was influential in Japan in the growth of shunga.

In the early times, the most famous painter was Moronobu HISHIKAWA who mainly painted the shunga.

Also, Ukiyozoshi (lit. Books of the Floating World) and Koshoku ichidai otoko (Life of an amorous man) written by Saikaku IHARA became very popular. Then, the genre called as Koshoku mono (Tales of Gallantry) became in fashion. It increased demands for the shunga.

However, in 1722, at the time of the Kyoho Reforms (the reforms made in the Kyoho era of the Edo period), erotic books were banned
Still it was secretly sold due to its demand. Around 1789 to 1800, according to the development of the Nishiki-e (woodblock prints), multicolor painted shunga appeared in earnest.

Beyond the rules and regulations enacted by the Edo shogunate, the shuga in full color was published that was ordinarily impossible. Therefore, it is said that the most significant technique of the ukiyoe was used for shunga. Most of the famous painters, even painters of the Kano School and the Tosa School painted shunga.

The shunga widely-circulated as woodblock paints had high artistic quality. It was not known if it was for sex education or for the pursuit of sex culture, or philosophical or religious implication. It may be a future research issue that by what kind of people it was wanted or why the high technique was required. Also the models of shunga netsuke (miniature carving attached to the end of a cord hanging from a pouch) were old men and women, animals, the saints, and fruits.

However, shielded from the control of the Edo Shognate, the names of the original writers, painters and publishers were expressed in the pictures as hidden signatures to disguise their identities.

In the Meiji period, photographs came to replace shunga. According to the criminal laws 改定律令違式罪目 in the Meiji period, those who sell shunga or the like were punished by caning and had their shunga seized.

In these days, the shuga is socially valued as a work of art (erotica), not being regarded as pornography.

In the end of the Edo period, ukiyoe was valued in the West due to Japonism. Shunga was in disfavor due to its vulgarness and it was not exported. However, from the end of the Meiji period to the Taisho period, when bijinga (beautiful women's pictures) that foreigners liked gradually became out of stock, the shunga, which was partly repainted around genitals and collaged to make a woman's picture were exported. Today such made-up bijinga were still distributed. Some cases had an argument about the authenticity and brought into the court.

Painters and their most important work
Moronobu HISHIKAWA "Komurasaki" (small purple)
Shunsho KATSUKAWA: "Ehon irogonomi no hitoshiki (絵本色好之人式) " (Illustrated Rules of An Amorous Man)
Kiyonaga TORII "Shikido juniban"(Twelve Scenes in Love Affairs)
Utamaro KITAGAWA: "Utamakura"(poetic pillows)
Toyokuni UTAGAWA: "Ose kari no koe (逢世雁之声)"
Hokusai KATSUSHIKA: "Manpukuwago-shin"(happy sexual deities)
Eisen KEISAI: "Mutamagawa"
Kuniyoshi UTAGAWA: "Hanagoyomi" (seasonal flowers)
Famous works
Daigo-ji temple "Chigo no soshi" (tales of the temple acolytes)
FUJIWARA no Takanobu "Shunga shokan (春画小巻)" (small books of shunga)
Keion SUMIYOAHI or Nobuzane "Koshibagaki-zoshi"(lit. small brushwood fence books) (another title "Nonomiya-emaki")
Keion SUMIYOAHI or Mitsunobu "Kanjo no maki"
Korehisa KOSE "Fukueohoshi-soshi" (The Story of Fukuro Bonze) (another title "Uzumasa Monogatari"or "Uzumawa tales")
"Fukurohoshi ekotoba" (The picture book of Fukuro Bonzo)
Mitsunobu "48 Shunga"
Motonobu KANO "Obana-nikki" (Obana Dialy)

Back to the old time, it included "Yobutsu Kurabe"(Phalluses Contest) by Toba sojo etc.

[Original Japanese]