The Voluptuous Dream Scenes by Ukiyo-e Masters Harunobu & Koryusai
Marijn Kruijff
4 min

Voluptuous Dream Scenes by Ukiyo-e Masters Harunobu & Koryusai

4 min

The depiction of dreams in ukiyo-e is a rather rare occurrence. This was a characteristic probably most used in the shunga genre where in the designs the thoughts of the concerning protagonist(s) wander off towards erotic desires and encounters. They are represented by means of thought clouds that are still used in comic strips today.

Harunobu & Koryusai

The ukiyo-e artists who seemed most fascinated by dreams were the 17th century ukiyo-e master Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770) and his friend and pupil Isoda Koryusai (1735-1790). Below, some amusing examples of them are included…

koryusai dreaming man shunga

Great Charm

This diminutive work (c.1773) only measures 5″ x 5 /12″ inches. In these prints Koryusai’s strength of drawing is allied with the natural delicacy demanded by their modest size, resulting in an effect which possesses great charm and originality. This dream scene is an excellent example of this, with its humor spread over multiple levels.

Playful Cat

A sleeping man is dreaming about an erotic rendezvous and gets so aroused that he has an orgasm. A curious cat is fascinated by his ejaculation while a young courtesan looks on in shock. Or is the playful cat the cause of his arousal?

Harunobu shunga

Young woman dreaming of an erotic encounter‘ (c.1770) in the style of Harunobu (Housed in the British Museum)

Drifting Thoughts

Seated at the kotatsu (covered brazier) on a winter’s evening, a woman’s thoughts have drifted, perhaps inspired by the book lying beside the lantern. The covers have fallen back to reveal the pleasurable effects of her fantasy.

Harunobu dreaming woman

Another impression

Suzuki Harunobu ukiyo-e

Part of the Varshavsky Collection


During a hot summer afternoon a woman is dreaming about love-making. Although it’s close to the style of Harunobu, the British museum attributes this design to Ippitsusai Buncho (act.1755-1790). It was issued around 1770.

koryusai dreaming couple

Mōgetsu (First Month)‘ (c.1772-73) from the series ‘Furyu juniki no eika (Prosperous Flowers of the Elegant Twelve Seasons)‘ by Isoda Koryusai

Koryusai ukiyo-e

Another impression of ‘Mōgetsu‘ (Source: Tuyashun)

Dreaming of Fuji

This is the first tableau of Koryusai’s series Prosperous Flowers of the Elegant Twelve Seasons that starts off with an innocent scene. The two adolescents who were playing the board game Sugoroku are taking a nap together. They are dreaming of traveling together to Mount Fuji. Depicted in their dream are a hawk and three eggplants. Apparently their wishes will come true. The potted plant on the porch is the Amur adonis which announces the arrival of spring and celebrates the new year.

vulva dreaming of phalluses

Dreaming vagina‘ (c.1830s) attributed to Keisai Eisen (Source: Tuyashun)

Neck Clouds

When it concerns thought clouds the default in the Edo period was that the cloud comes out of the neck* instead of the head (as in Western comics). In this rare case, the vagina is the starting point. The scabrous text reads, ‘Big penises, small penises, skin-covered penises, right turning penises. All penises know my hole.’

Koryusai futon hugging shunga

Hugging the futon‘ (c.1776) by Isoda Koryusai (Source: Tuyashun)


This young woman hugs the futon while dreaming of sensual acts.

Hokusai erotic dream scene


The thought cloud in this tobira-e (frontispiece) design (c.1820) by Katsushika Hokusai is difficult to distinguish due to its fading. A dozing man is absorbed in his wet dream. He leans his head and arm on the shunga book in front of him. The books clearly triggered his fantasy.

Koryusai Sugawara of the Tsuruya dreaming of Daikoku

Sugawara of the Tsuruya dreaming of Daikoku‘ (c.1778) by Isoda Koryusai (Housed in the Art Institute Chicago)


Of course not all dreams are erotically charged, this chuban-sized bijin-ga (print of beauties) design depicts courtesan Sugawara of the Tsuruya dreaming of Daikoku (aka Daikokuten), the god of wealth.

Click HERE for more articles on the important shunga artist Harunobu and here for Koryusai…!!

*小二田 誠二 (@KONITASeiji)

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