The Secret Lesbian Encounters in Ukiyo-e Shunga
Pictures of lesbians were also popular in shunga (although they are very rare!). The depicted women are usually shown using a special dildo (harigata), composed like a double-sided phallus. Although I have seen pictures in which a woman was wearing a mask (see the second print in the video below!) of a male kabuki actor, I have never seen a woman dressed as a male (while this kind of cross-dressing was very common in male homoerotic scenes).
Fig.1. ‘Lesbian couple with tortoise-shell harigata*‘ (c.1842) from the series ‘Shiki no sugatami (Viewing Forms in the Four Seasons)‘ by Utagawa Kunisada
Only very rarely are the women shown touching or kissing each other or having oral sex. Most, if not all. of the artists were men so they may have been inclined to present lesbianism less as a sexual tendency and more as a response to a lack of male presence.
Fig.2. ‘Lesbian couple using a tagaigata**‘ excerpt from a primitive shunga scroll from the 1650s. Painted by an Unknown Master
There’s very little known about lesbian love in the Edo era so there is a big chance that these kind of scenes were merely male fantasies. A very early (c.1650) and rare example of a primitive shunga scroll paintings featuring lesbian activity (see Fig.2.)
Video on Lesbian shunga:
Fig.3. ‘Female servants making love‘ (c.1814) from the series ‘Kinoe no komatsu (Languishing for Love/ Young Pine Saplings)‘ by Katsushika Hokusai
Two female servants who have interrupted their activities for the lord and are now making love using a dildo. A design from Hokusai’s acclaimed Kinoe no komatsu-series that was published in 1814.
Fig.4. ‘Lesbian encounter with the use of tagaigata‘ (c.1900) attributed to Keishu Takeuchi (1861-1942)
Fig.5. ‘Lesbian encounter‘ (c.1790s) from the series ‘Picture Book: The Laughable Erotic Shellfish (Ehon warai ga)‘ by Gessai Gabimaru
Fig.6. ‘Lesbian encounter ‘ (c.1838) from the series ‘Shunshoku hana no shizuku (Erotic Drops of Flower Petals)‘ by Keisai Eisen (1790-1848)
A sensual encounter between two young girls using a tagaigata. Striking is that both their faces are partly or completely covered. The insert features a peacock that seems to observe their activities.
Fig.7. ‘Two copulating females using a tagaigata‘ (c.1827) from the series ‘Imose-yama‘ by Utagawa Kuninao
These two love-making females are triggered by the ukiyo-e print depicting their favorite actor that lays beside them. Just like the storage box that normally houses the tagaigata (double-sided dildo) they are using. One of their colleagues is passionately observing them in the other room.
Fig.8. ‘Lesbian couple with strap-on dildo (harigata)‘ (c.1820) by Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867)
Fig.9. Egoyomi ‘Lesbian couple using a Tengu mask‘ (c.1830) attributed to Keisai Eisen (1790-1848)
Fig.10. Shikake-e (Trick picture) with movable double-sided dildo ‘Lesbian fantasy‘ (c.1840) by Utagawa school
Fig.11. ‘Lesbian couple wearing a tortoise-shell harigata (dildo) have found sensual inspiration after reading a shunga book‘ (c.1850) by a member of the Utagawa school
Fig.12. ‘Orgy including lesbians using various dildos‘ (c.1850) from the series ‘Ko-u so no jin yori haseide daigasen no zu‘ by Utagawa Kunisada II
Fig.13. ‘Orgy including lesbian activity‘ (c.1850) from the series ‘Ko-u so no jin yori haseide daigasen no zu‘ by Utagawa Kunisada II
Fig.14. ‘Lesbian threesome with harigata dildos‘ (c.1760) by Tsukioka Settei
Fig.15. Painting featuring ‘Lesbians experimenting with a harigata while looking at a shunga book‘ (c.1900s) by an unknown Meiji artist
Fig.16. ‘Rare gay scene with two young females and two males making love to each other‘ (c.1840) by Utagawa school
Fig.17. Painting ‘Lesbian couple using a tagaigata (double-sided dildo)‘ (c.1920) by an unknown Taisho era artist
Fig.18. ‘Lesbian lovers using a tagaigata (double-sided dildo)‘ (c.1840) by Utagawa school
Fig.19. Painting of a ‘Lesbian couple with cat performing oral sex‘ (consignment piece 2018) by Senju Shunga
Fig.20. ‘Lesbians and sex toys‘ (c.1839) from the series ‘Ana no ukihashi‘ by Keisai Eisen
Striking tableaux scene portraying two geisha making love with the aid of a tagaigata (double-sided phallus). In the background, another female satisfies herself using a harigata (artificial phallus), ingeniously attached to her heel with a rope.
Fig.21. ‘Courtesans experimenting with a strap-on dildo (harigata)‘ (c.1920s) by an unknown Japanese artist
Models of Calligraphy
Painting inspired by Chokyosai’s Eiri’s masterpiece ‘Fumi no kiyogaki (Models of Calligraphy)‘ issued in 1801.
Fig.22. ‘The empress of the Island of Women fingering a female lover near a tree‘ (c.1830) attributed to Yanagawa Shigenobu
Fig.23. ‘Rare lesbian scene with two females kissing‘ (c.1830) from the series ‘Koi no minato nyogo no shima da‘ by Utagawa Kuniyasu
Fig.24. ‘Women using a dildo‘ (Late 1780s) by Katsukawa Shuncho
This unrecorded print is surely one of the great ukiyo-e lesbian designs. It predates by around a dozen years, the famous image of the same subject by Eiri from the series Fumi no kiyogaki,
Fig. 25. 'Lesbian lovers playing with a double-sided dildo' (Meiji era) by an unidentified artist
Fig. 26. 'Lesbians using a tagaigata' (Meiji era) by an unidentified artist
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* a harigata is an artificial penis (dildo)
** a tagaigata is a double-sided dildo
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