The Highly Entertaining Erotic Toy Prints That Amused the Ancient Japanese Customer
Marijn Kruijff
2 min

The Highly Entertaining Erotic Toy Prints That Amused the Ancient Japanese Customer

2 min

In the eighteenth century some shunga books had a single image divided over two pages. Possibly this has inspired the books that were published in the nineteenth century which sometimes included flaps in the pages (shikake-e aka. Toy prints‘ or ‘trick pictures’)…

the bigamist - shunga - kuniyoshi

Fig.1. ‘The bigamist‘ from the series ‘ ‘ by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

the bigmaist - erotic print - kuniyoshi

Fig.2. ‘The bigamist (part 2)’ by Kuniyoshi


When the flap is opened the image transforms from innocent  to erotic or the bizarre. Towards the end of the Edo period, around the 1820s to 1830s, prints became more embellished and many toy-prints were produced. Some were composed of a number of parts joined together with cords; by pulling the cords one could move the couple’s sexual body parts.

'Intimate couple in the harbour' (c.1850). Shikake-e by an unknown pupil of te Utagawa school

Fig.3. ‘Intimate couple in the harbour‘ (c.1850). Shikake-e by an unknown pupil of the Utagawa school

Sexual Organs

Another variation, mostly found in books but also in prints, shows a scene that at first seems innocent, but on removing a flap in the shape of the couple’s clothes, a sliding door or a blanket, a sexual act is revealed. There are books showing seated courtesans performing music (see Fig.5.), and when the flaps are opened reveal their sexual organs.

Naked Women

Toy prints can also take the form of a game showing several naked women in various positions, with slits in the paper in their private parts; an additional piece in the shape of a male figure with an erect penis could be moved to penetrate the women, according to the choice of the player (Fig.4.).

shikake-e - trik pixture - shunga - utagawa school

Fig.4. ‘Man with thirteen women‘ (c.1840). Shikake-e by an unknown member of the Utagawa school

Since shunga works often used the best quality paper and pigments, and trick prints were expensive to produce, they were almost exclusively created for shunga.

kuniyoshi toy (trick) print - vulva scroll

Fig.5. ‘Vulva scroll ‘ from the series ‘Fuzoku sangokushi‘ (c.1832) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. CLICK on the IMAGE to reveal what’s behind the flap