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24 January 2017 

Eiri's Erotic Masterpiece of a Lesbian Couple with Harigata

This compelling erotic design by Chokyosai Eiri (c.1789-1801) depicting ‘lesbian love‘ is from one of the most daring sets of oban-size shunga known. The first edition includes thirteen instead of the traditional twelve designs. Sex scenes between woman are rare in shunga.

lesbian shunga

Lesbian couple with harigata (c.1801)’ from the series ‘Fumi no kiyogaki (Models of Calligraphy)‘  by Chokyosai Eiri

Harigata

As reported by Dr. Richard Lane, this female-female sex scene is sometimes excluded from later editions. This type of dildo (harigata), with a cord attached, was designed to be used  by women, not men. When two women were playing together it was worn around the hips. When one woman was enjoying it alone , she tied it to her ankle.

Translation of the text in the print

Here the woman wearing the dildo holds a shell containing a lubricant of some kind. She says: “Seeing as we’re going to do it like this, I’ll put lots of the cream on it. So really make yourself come. Without the cream this big one would not go in.”

The aphrodisiac cream is obviously being used as a lubricant. The other woman puts a hand up to the dildo and urges her friend: “Hurry up and put it in. I want to come. I want to come five or six times without stopping.”

Samurai Mansions

This is not strictly speaking a lesbian encounter. In the Edo period it was widely believed that dildo’s were use by ladies-in-waiting in the woman’s quarters of samurai mansions. They were necessary because this was a world without men, rather than being an expression of affective love between women.

Chokyosai Eiri / Fumi no kiyogaki

Impression with blue accents

Widespread Use

But were dildo’s really in widespread use among ladies-in-waiting in the Edo period? Surely this is, rather, “the world of the lady-in-waiting as imagined by common townspeople.

Lubricant

Ukiyoe-expert dr. Richard Lane comments the following on the original Eiri design in Models of Calligraphy:

“In a striking lesbian scene (which has no equivalent in Utamaro, and is, incidentally, often omitted in later editions of this album), the girl at left prepares to receive the harigata (dildo) worn by the older girl at right (who holds a seashell containing lubricant). Aside from the aforementioned “Nagasaki tableau”this is probably the most unusual print of the series and there are, indeed, collectors who favor it above all others.

harigata dildo

Impression with purple accents

Eiri here deftly transforms one of the less conventional subjects of sexual art into a charming world of colorful fantasy, rather close in mood to the shunga of his great predecessor of a generation earlier – Harunobu. One is struck, moreover, by a certain element of distant, refined and purely classical beauty that can only be compared to the erotic art of ancient Greece. (“Where”, the reader need hardly be reminded, “burning Sappho loved and sung.”)”.

lesbian love in shunga

Impression with green accents

Click HERE for more articles on shunga art with lesbian encounters…!!

Source: ‘Shunga, Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art‘. Published by the British Museum (Tanaka Yuko – Hosei University, Tokyo)

About the author
Max
By

Max

on 2 March 2018

Fascinated by this unusual piece of art - for a range of reasons. But can whoever writes the captions (note - no apostrophe there) please learn how to use correct English punctuation? An apostrophe does not belong when the plural alone applies. It is used for only two reasons; to denote ownership (as in ‘Eiri’s Erotic materpiece...) or as an abbreviation to indicate the ommision of a letter (as in ‘he’s (short for ‘he has’) created a masterpiece here’). I don’t mean to be a pedant, but it dies matter!

Marijn
By

Marijn

on 22 March 2018

Thanks for your comments and grammar corrections, Max. I will take it into account in my future posts.

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