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Kitagawa Utamaro's Early and Scarce Shunga Book

Today we’ll study the Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806)’s Picture-book: Dew on the Chrysanthmums (1786). It is one of his scarce early shunga books and precedes his acclaimed album Poem of the Pillow (Utamakura), which was issued in 1788. The series initially appeared in black and white (sumizuri-e) and was later reprinted with additional color blocks.

Settei and Kiyonaga

One of the striking features of this book is how Utamaro has exploited the double-page format by the running on of the composition (see Fig.1. and 2) forming a diptych. The resulting elongation of the composition is reminiscent of the work of Tsukioka Settei (1710-1787) and of Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815)’s  The Sleeve Scroll (Sode no maki, 1785).

Handscroll

Below you can find two double-page illustrations that form one design. The two scenes, however, are not related. In this respect they mimic the structure of a handscroll. In Fig.1. the text transfers the interest of both parties in their respective pleasure quarters.

kitagawa utamaro

Fig..1. ‘Married intimate couple’ (c.1786) from the series ‘Ehon kiku no tsuyu (Picture -book: Dew on the Chrysanthemums)‘ by Kitagawa Utamaro

Octopus Pussy

In Fig.2. it is the man who speaks. He praises the quality of the woman’s genitalia and states that she possesses a combination of the three highest ranks of vulvas: the octopus pussy (takobobo) appreciated for its sucking qualities; the trapdoor pussy (todatebobo), appreciated for its ability to hold onto the male member; and the purse pussy (kinchakubobo), praised for its tightness.

kitagawa Utamaro

Fig.2. ‘Woman with high-quality vulva’ (c.1786) from the series ‘Ehon kiku no tsuyu (Picture -book: Dew on the Chrysanthemums)

Head of the Penis

Fig.3. features a striking scene that almost fills the entire page, with the head of the penis making its appearance into the image in the lower left. This encourages the reader to turn the page for the following scene.

kitagawa utamaro

Fig.3. ‘Half-length portrait of an intimate couple’ (c.1786) from the series ‘Ehon kiku no tsuyu (Picture -book: Dew on the Chrysanthemums)

Fig.3a. First edition in black and white*

kitagawa utamaro

Fig.4. ‘Widow and Secret Lover’ (c.1786) from the series ‘Ehon kiku no tsuyu (Picture -book: Dew on the Chrysanthemums)

Hairy Vulva

This design (Fig.4.) delineates the theme of the lascivious widow and her secret lover. The very hairy vulva is an indication that it concerns an older woman.

Fig.5. ‘Wild encounter with a nude lady sitting on top of a hairy man‘ (c.1786) from the series ‘Ehon kiku no tsuyu (Picture -book: Dew on the Chrysanthemums)‘ (First B&W edition)*

Click HERE to examine more shunga art by Kitagawa Utamaro…!!!

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Source: ‘Japanese Erotic Fantasies – Sexual Imagery of the Edo Period‘ by Chris Uhlenbeck

* Source of the images of the b&w prints is: ‘Сюнга. Откровенное искусство Японии / Shunga. Explicit art of Japan‘, 2016. Authors: A. E. Pushakova, K. G. Danelya.

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Darya

By

Darya

on 2 March 2020

Thank you for this post! Recently I've come across a rape scene that tends to be from this series.

Marijn

By

Marijn

on 2 March 2020

Thanks Darya, in the past I had a video that included all designs. Unfortunately I lost it after it was removed from Youtube! If you have by any chance an image of a scene (or scenes) that is missing here I would be pleased to add it to the article!

Darya

By

Darya

on 2 March 2020

Well, yes, it's not a rape, she's just having fun. I was misled by her fake reluctance (she covers her private parts or it seems to be so) and his hairy appearance.

Marijn

By

Marijn

on 3 March 2020

Yes, the best shunga designs have many underlying subtleties and meanings. Many of which are unknown to us and will remain so!

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