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Shunga May 13, 2010

Posted by leskanturek in Art History, Printmaking, Student Blog posts, Student Post.
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by Josey  Herrington

Shunga are erotic Japanese woodblock prints which can be traced back to the the Heian period (794 to 1185) but reached it’s peak in the Edo period (1603 to 1867). The intention of these prints is not to depict sex in a direct, explicit manner, but rather to express the energy, intensity, and beauty of erotism which exists in the Japanese culture but can not be openly demonstrated.

(above) An example of how Shunga seek to combine explicit sexuality and aesthetics)

These prints depict not just one idealized portrayal of erotism but explore varying and irregular forms of sexuality. The subjects depicted range from the Courtesans who attended the Shogun’s high court to the ordinary working class, from couples drastically differing in age to homosexuality and even zoophilia.

(above) Exploring sensuality between nature and animals


In the eyes of outsiders this could be seen as a form of primitive pornography, but on the contrary Shunga was not seen as a taboo and was widely accepted as a form of art. As western concepts of the erotic revolve around the amount of explicit nudity, the subjects in Shunga are clothed in flowing garments. This is because public baths or onsen were a part of everyday life in Japan and thus nudity was not valued as the erotic. The subjects clothing creates an aesthetically pleasing flow to their bodies but also directs the viewers eye to what is intentionally revealed.

Shunga is translated into “Images of Spring” and stands as a connection between the erotic and the beauty of the changing of seasons. It is an acceptable medium in which a culture embraces and connects  within strict social boundaries.
(above) Cherry Blossoms are iconic in Japan for representing spring