In this masterful design the ukiyo-e artist extraordinaire Suzuki Harunobu (d.1770) replaces the billowing sail of a ship with a towel that moves by the breeze. A young girl plucks hairs from the beard of a middle-aged man. She wears a robe with long, hanging sleeves. He gently holds her shoulder while kissing her on the mouth.
The intimacy of their embrace is accentuated by their faces reflected in the geisha mirror. Their age difference indicates that the man visits his young mistress. He probably sneaked in through the gate in the backyard, across the stepping stones.
Harunobu’s print displays the different levels of meaning that combine to create a complicated narrative. Initially, the series is a variation on the traditional theme of the ‘Eight Views of Omi (Omi hakkei)’, which was also parodied by Harunobu in his earlier renowned series ‘Eight Parlour Views (Zashiki hakkei, 1766)’. In the second place, the print title is a play on words on the ‘returning sails off a distant shore’, on of the Eight Views.
This erotic image hints at the earlier non-erotic version in the Eight Parlour Views, and the pun is clear from the included poem in the cloud-shaped cartouche above the couple.
The poem reads, ‘That boat over there with sails/ swelling to the front/ Is it coming to the harbour/ Ah yes it is coming in.’
The swaying towel on the rack on the veranda equates to a sail, and the depicted wave motifs on the screen on the left further increases the boat analogy.
Click HERE for more articles on Harunobu’s poetic erotic art…!!!
‘Japanese Erotic Fantasies – Sexual Imagery of the Edo Period’ by Margarita Winkel
‘Shunga, Erotic Art in Japan‘ by Rosina Buckland
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