This shunga print (Fig.1.) is from the period that the traditional color woodblock printing (and therefore shunga) was in the last phase. With the emergence of competing technologies, in particular photolithography (economic advantages), and the significant social shifts this medium became obsolete.
Shunga was pushed aside by the camera, which now took over its erotic functions. These photographs were produced on two levels. The first were studio photographs with the Japanese women depicted as seen through the eroticized gaze of a Western male photographer.
These were intended for the male tourist trade, and often used the same backdrop as ukiyo-e prints such as females in a bathhouse or in a state of undress at their toilette. The second were the sexually explicit photographs (Fig.2.) of which more and more have emerged in recent years.
The above image takes us into a railway carriage where a young female student is seated on a bench. The feather boa emphasizes that she is a young fashion-conscious woman. She briefly looks up from the book she is reading to admire the view outside the train as they pass Mount Fuji.
Bare Upper Thigh
She is accompanied by a distinguished male, dressed as a Westernized man, wearing a cape, scarf and cap, and holding a cigarette. At first glance, all seems innocent with the woman discreetly looking away, but upon closer inspection we become aware of the bare upper thigh and the hand of the man “disappearing” under her red underskirt.
Text in Cartouche
The text in the cartouche on the right expresses the concern of the woman about their exposure but the man assures her that they are not noticed and that she can relax.
Much attention has been paid to the printing; such as the burnishing of the black area on the man’s sleeve, the elegant blue pigment (the book) that has been applied to create a smooth effect on the feather boa and blind printing (gaufrage) has been added to signify the snow on the top of the mountain in the background.
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Source: ‘Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art‘ by the British Museum