The painting and the print below show us the rare depiction of moxa treatment. Moxa, or young, dried mugwort, is applied while burning to a person’s body as a form of medical treatment. These treatments are sometimes very hurtful and their effect can be compared with acupuncture. Burning moxa was also used to remove tattoos.
Harunobu shows us here how women can multitask in shunga (Fig.1.). The young woman in the middle is making love to the man on the left while applying burning moxa with a feather to the older woman (her mother-in-law) at the same time. The latter bends forward, leaning on an armrest with her back exposed. A kaku-andon (paper lantern) in the background provides the necessary lighting.
The small figure sitting behind the old woman is the miniature man called Maneemon (aka.. Harunobu added him in all the designs of his famous ‘Elegant Horny Maneemon‘ series (two sets of twelve prints) . He spies on lovers and sometimes imitates them in his own funny and touching way. Here he mimics the women’s activities, giving himself a moxa treatment with a focused look on his face.
In this Meiji painting (Fig.2.) we can see the burning marks of the moxa treatment on the back of a completely naked male while having sex with his loved one. A moxa stick is still burning in the case next to them. In front of them lay some instructional books for the use of this alternative medicine.
Source: ‘Japanese Erotic Prints – Shunga by Harunobu & Koryusai‘ by Inge Klompmakers