An arresting image from the highly-acclaimed ‘Mirror of the Vagina‘-album (c.1823) by the undisputed leader of the Utagawa school at that time, Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825). The series was part of the important shunga exhibition at the British Museum in 2014 and discussed in detail in the accompanying catalogue Shunga, Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art. It also treated in detail in the book Poem of the Pillow and Other Stories by Gian Carlo Calza.
The series is famous for his ghastly visuals such as the macabre love-suicide (in graphic detail) and a man making love to a skeleton. They are shown in sequential fashion which was an innovation at the time.
The scene represents a complicated history, as the portrayed old man is a blind anma (masseur). In Japan during the Tokugawa era, edicts were issued by the regime which made the practice of anma exclusively reserved for blind people, excluding the sighted people. The lonely housewife here, enjoys the intimacies of the blind man while her legs are still under the kotatsu (table heater). She is looking at an intimate couple depicted in the opened shunga book in front of her. Her gaze is in contrast with the frustation about his blindness.
The most famous anma in Japan is the fictional character Zatoichi, a blind masseur and blademaster. whose adventures have been featured in countless films, t.v. series and comics. In films he was portrayed among others by Shintaro Katsu, Takeshi Kitano and Rutger Hauer.
Click HERE for more striking articles on Toyokuni’s shunga art…!!
Click HERE (coming soon!) for background info on one of the most mesmerizing designs from the Mirror of the Vagina-series…!!