Shunga art is all about artistic pleasure and is an erotic Japanese tradition that is fairly graphic but beautiful at the same time. There is no better place than to showcase the beauty of courtesans in Japan. Courtesans were known by many different Japanese terms, including oiran, yûjo and jorô, and were women who were specially trained in the art of looking after men. Some may call them simple prostitutes, but they were much more than sex workers.
If you look at the images of courtesans in Japan, and they appear all over shunga art, courtesans are beautiful. The men they are serving are satisfied. Courtesans looked after themselves immaculately. They dressed beautifully, did their make-up perfectly and never had a hair out of place. The artworks of these times are lush and colourful, romantic and sexy, always beautiful. It’s hard to tell what really happened behind the scenes. Men desired courtesans and perhaps, lived out all their fantasies with their courtesans.
The paintings are always of beautiful women, servicing men. It may not be sexually, it may be in food, drink, gentle massage or a foot rub. There was a definite ranking of courtesans, and the top courtesans were always in high demand and very expensive. Even a night with a middle ranking courtesan cost a lot of money. Courtesans were well trained, went to courtesan classes and became expert at what they did.
A courtesan often came with an entourage – courtesans in waiting, courtesans in attendance or courtesans in training. A man did not only pay for the courtesan, he paid for the entourage too.
Courtesans had different specialities. Some excelled in conversation, others excelled in music or in dance. Men wanted all of these things, with the sexual and sensual pleasures that came across.
If a man wanted sex only, he would go to a yujo. If he wanted companionship and entertainment, he would call for a courtesan.
The most popular shunga art includes courtesans and men who are joyful, pleasured and feel desired.