Recently we acquired a rare pair of shunga prints. It is entitled ‘Shin-Yoshiwara karitaku Nakanomachi embo (Distant view of Nakanomachi at the temporary quarters of Shin-Yoshiwara)’, and issued around 1848.
Both consecutive designs include a movable gimmick (through the lower torso of the male figure). There is some debate on the artist, it’s either Koikawa Shozan (1821-1907) or Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). These kind of shikake-e (trick pictures) prints had a complicated production process and therefore were issued in very small editons.
The scenes take place in two separate connecting spaces of a brothel. In the first image on the left a high-class courtesan (oiran)*, recognized by her extensive hair ornaments, having sex with a client, and the right image shows a couple having sex doggy-style at a window. In the background you can see the roofs of surrounding houses and the tops of cherry blossom trees.
The prints have fine impressions, colors and are in a near fine condition. The movable parts are reinforced and some minor marks and flaws only. Each print measures ca. 8 1/2″ x 10 1/4″ inches (total size ca. 8 1/2″ x 20 1/2″ inches).
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*oiran discerned themselves from ordinary prostitutes (yūjo) in that they were mainly entertainers. An oiran had many skills such as the traditional arts of sadō (“The way of tea”), ikebana (the art of flower arrangement), and calligraphy. They were well-read and able to maintain a refined conversation.
Furthermore, they could play several musical instruments such as the koto (13-stringed instrument), shakuhachi (end-blown bamboo-
The highest rank a courtesan could reach was the tayū, followed by the kōshi. Unlike the ordinary prostitute, the tayū were in the position to refuse a client. Her high status meant that her customers had to reach deep into their pockets. Because their price was the same as the annual salary of a store clerk. Many of them were famous far beyond the gates of the pleasure districts, similar to today’s pop stars.
Do you like these kind of shikake-e? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below!