Masami Teraoka And His Controversial Tentacle Erotica
Marijn Kruijff
5 min

Masami Teraoka And His Controversial Tentacle Erotica

5 min

Masami Teraoka is a Japanese-American artist who was born Onomichi, Hiroshima, Japan in 1936. Like Hiroshi Hirakawa he assimilated the two-dimensional drawing style of the ukiyo-e tradition and adds modern day items and references. On the eye his images look uncomplicated and direct but when you study his watercolor paintings closer a complex multi-layered worldview emerges.

pearl diver and octopus

Pearl Diver and Octopus‘ (1986) from the ‘Waves’ series, watercolor on paper, 32.5” x 80” by Masami Teraoka

Sarah and Dream Octopus

Sarah and Dream Octopus‘ (1992) from the ‘New Wave’ series watercolor on paper, 20” x 30”

Abuse By Catholic Priests

This can also be noticed in the meaningful titles of the series of paintings such as McDonald’s Hamburgers Invading Japan and 31 Flavors Invading Japan. Subjects as AIDS (in the eighties), sexual abuse by Catholic priests, equal rights for gays and similar issues are part of Masami Teraoka’s engagement.

Hawai snorkel - swimmers on the beach

From the Hawai Snorkel series

hawai snorkel - swimmers in the sea

From the Hawai Snorkel series

Hieronymous Bosch

Later in his career Masami moved from the flat imagery of ukiyo-e to the sumptuous and large surface. These giant triptychs, inspired on Hieronymous Bosch’ (1450-1516) paintings, portray the Catholic Church as the sinner. This because they swept the child abuse in their institution under the carpet.

Loyal to Ukiyo-e

His large-scale painting may be inspired on famous Renaissance paintings but Masami remains loyal to the narrative quality of ukiyo-e.

ghost in the sea with fox fires (kitsune)

American Kabuki (Oishiiwa)‘ (1986)

Female tattooed diver and octopus

catfish envy - masami teraoka

Catfish Envy‘ (1993) (Photograph from

masami teraoka self-portrait

Self-portrait‘ from the ‘McDonald’s Hamburgers Invading Japan‘ series

Namiyo At Hanauma Bay

Namiyo At Hanauma Bay

Masami Teroaka: ghost and rokurokubi yokai on a boat

geisha and ghost cat Masami Teraoka

'Geisha and Ghost Cat ' from the 'AIDS Series”' (1989–2002)

masami teraoka Tale of a Thousand Condoms - Geisha and Skeleton

'Tale of a Thousand Condoms - Geisha and Skeleton ' (1989)  Watercolor and sumi ink on canvas, 133” x 82.5”

masami teraoka aids series

From the Aids series

The following video features 10 other works (including some of his triptychs)

Kunisada's Impact

The artist who had the greatest influence on Teraoka was the prolific ukiyo-e and shunga artist Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865). He admires Kunisada's great ability to give each character in his prints a unique personality and thinks the power of some of his compositions is unmatched. Kunisada's ghost prints in particular are among his favorites. In an earlier interview (see video below) he mentions, 'They're really magnificent, it's so beautifully done but still he could convey some sort of scary feeling. And that's really something that not many artists can do.'

Kunisada eclipsed Masami Teraoka

'Kunisada Eclipsed ' (1993) from the 'Hawaii Snorkel ' series

Kunisada Eclipsed

'Kunisada Eclipsed ' from 1993, is a more humorous print from the Hawaii Snorkel portfolio. Like in all his work, Teraoka combines the characteristic stylised landscape and composition of ukiyo-e prints with Teraoka’s personal iconography and contemporary references. Kunisada appears in the centre of the picture. Teraoka depicts him visiting Hawaii in a dream. Teraoka explains the narrative:

‘While he is drawing fish at Hanama Bay, he is startled by an American woman who unexpectedly stands up in front of him. He forgets the fish he was drawing and, of course, the solar eclipse he can no longer see. He is enthralled by the view and tries to hide his emotions from the blushing assistant who is preparing ink for him.’ (Masami Teraoka, 1993, unpaginated.)

The text on the right edge of the image refers to the Kabuki theatre references within the print, approximately translating as: ‘A new play. A scene during the American tour. Suddenly the bright day is covered and the rain begins to fall.’ The characters on the scroll Kunisada is working on translate as ‘drawing a swimming fish in a summer’s sea.’ Text on the left of the image cheekily declares the sight of the woman’s scantily clad bottom as: ‘A super view: better than an eclipse.’ The woman is identified as ‘American woman: Marabeth Cohen’.

A cartouche in the top right corner represents Yamakaya/Masami, a reference both to the artist and his family’s kimono shop. Elsewhere, the date of the design for the print, 1991, and the artist’s age at that time, fifty-five, are revealed. Ken Tyler, the master printmaker who supervised the production of the print in his workshop, is acknowledged with an inscription on the fan at the centre of the image.

Premium members can find a whole new article on Masami Teraoka with among other things, a detailed study of his most famous work Sarah and Octopus/ Seventh Heaven (1992) including a translation of the amusing inscriptions, and many rare pictures of his erotic work and tentacle erotica...

Click HERE for more exciting modern shunga art…!!!


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