What Were the Most Arousing Shunga for the Male Reader in the Edo Era?
10 april 2020 
4 min. read

What Were the Most Arousing Shunga for the Male Reader in the Edo Era?

During the Edo period (1603-1868) most people owned only one garment, which they wore every day. Therefore, it’s not surprising that nice clothes were held in high regard. The Tokugawa regime ordained sumptuary regulations at times prohibiting non-samurai from decorating their clothes with gold threads or using imported fabrics.

Sexual Appeal

In this way, the intricate robes depicted in the prints, affordable only by people who belonged to certain classes – which also gave them sexual appeal – were perhaps a greater attraction than nudity.[1]

The prints below are a great examples of this (except for Fig.4), and were generally considered the most exciting by the male reader in the Edo era.

Fig.1. ‘3 miniature prints with portraits of solo women‘ (c.1850) attrib. to Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) (Source: Arts and Designs Japan)

Fig.2. ‘Female clipping her toenails ‘ (c.1850)

Fig.3. ‘Aroused female behind a folding screen caressing her private parts‘ (c.1850)

Fig.4. ‘A naked woman dries one of her feet after bathing ‘ (c.1850)

Fig.5. ‘Two single pages depicting females having a private moment. The inserts portray legendary Chinese emperors‘ (c.1832) from the series ‘Ehon kanso endan‘ attributed to Utagawa Kunitora (act.1810s-1830s)

Fig.6. ‘Emperor Gaozu of Han‘ (c.1832) from the series ‘Ehon kanso endan‘ attributed to Utagawa Kunitora (act.1810s-1830s)

Emperor Gaozu of Han

A woman enjoys the warmth of the kotatsu heater while she picks up hot coals with a tongs from the hibachi. The male, depicted in the insert, is the Emperor Gaozu of Han (256 BC-195 BC). He was the founder and first emperor of the Han dynasty and reigned from 202 – 195 BC.

Fig.7. ‘Hegemon-King of Western Chu [Xiang Yu]‘ (c.1832) from the series ‘Ehon kanso endan‘ attributed to Utagawa Kunitora (act.1810s-1830s)

Slitting His Throat

A woman sitting in front of a bookcase is engrossed in the book resting on her thigh. The insert right above portrays the notorious Chinese Emperor and prominent warlord Xiang Yu (232–202 BC). His reign was spent in constant wars. After his defeat at the Battle of Gaixia, he committed suicide by slitting his throat with his sword at the bank of the Wu River. Is the attentive female in the image perhaps reading (and fantasizing) about this virile warmonger?

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[1] ‘Japanese Erotic Art: The Hidden World of Shunga‘ by Ofer Shagan

What do you think are the most arousing shunga designs? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below….!!

About the author
Marijn is the founder of shungagallery.com. With more than 20 years of experience within the sensual and erotic art of shunga he is an authority in the genre. During this time he served many customers with complementing their art collection.


on 17 Apr 2020

It's intriguing to discover that the "sensual eye" of the ancient Japanese male audience was more subtle while nowadays all attention is fixated on the graphic and explicit.. I prefer the shunga images that include supernatural elements (ghosts and demons....etc.) Thanks!.

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