Shunga Within Shunga
22 juli 2019 
9 min. read

Shunga Within Shunga

Shunga paintings and prints sometimes include shunga within the image. Often this was a cheeky homage to the genre itself, with the images displaying an open shunga book visible next to a couple in the midst of having sex, offering a handy guidance.


In other cases, shunga books were added as a mood-enhancer to the involved protagonists or as a means for one of the lovers to seduce their partner. The images that show the portrayed couples mimicking the sensuality in the books (Fig.1 and 2), are probably not a representation of reality since the poses and activities as shown in shunga are in fact physically impossible.

Below you can find 8 striking examples of shunga within shunga

An amorous couple closely examines the images in a shunga book during their love-making

Fig.1. ‘An amorous couple closely examines the images in a shunga book during their love-making‘ (c.1900) by an unidentified artist


The blue frame surrounding the image including the flower motifs and Genji-mon (Genji crests) was a typical feature of the shunga issued in the middle and second part of the 19th century.

Copulating couple mimicking a pose in a shunga book

Fig.2. ‘Copulating couple mimicking a pose in a shunga book.‘ (c.1828) from the series ‘Chochidori (Butterflies and Plovers)‘ by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)


This completely nude couple is so lustful that the man even has penetrated the tissue used to clean their genitals in their previous session. The fan laying beside them depicts a kingfisher.

Geisha and client copying an intimate couple depicted in a shunga book

Fig.3. ‘Geisha and client copying an intimate couple depicted in a shunga book‘ (c.1854) from the series ‘Shunga Gojusan Tsugi Hana no Miyakoji‘ by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)

Breast Massage

The female is an oiran – a geisha from the highest class – and she was playing on her koto* when her client could no longer control his urges. He is taking her from the rear while passionately massaging her breasts. Remarkably, the pages in the book in front of her don’t depict an explicit scene.

Sex education by using a shunga booklet

Fig.4. ‘Sex education ‘ (c.1836) from the series: ‘Konote gashiwa (Two Aspects of Love/ Child’s-hand Oak)’ by Keisai Eisen (1790–1848)


A young male examines the private parts of his mature “sex instructor” after they have studied the shunga books in front of them. A shamisen (a tree-stringed musical instrument) stands in the background.

Newly-wed couple examining an old shunga scroll

Fig.5. ‘Newly-wed couple examining an old shunga scroll‘ (c.1827) from the series ‘Shunka shuto shiki no nagame (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter: Prospects for the Four Seasons)‘ by Utagawa Kunisada

Shy Spouse

A young adult man tries to convince his shy spouse to look at the intimate scenes featured on an old shunga scroll. In an earlier post I treated this design in more depth.

A shunga print with displaying shunga prints

Fig.6. ‘Shunga within shunga‘ (c.1833) from the series ‘Enseki zasshi‘ by Utagawa Kuniyoshi


An extraordinary design in the larger oban yoko-e** format that offers an elaborate composition depicting a tray of stacked shunga books, a folded fan and several koban-sized shunga prints in the foreground. This may have been a self-advertisement by Kuniyoshi himself, promoting shunga as a source of sexual knowledge, to arouse desire and its ability to improve the sexual skills of the reader.

Oiran and client having intercourse while reading a shunga book.

Fig.7. ‘Oiran and client ‘ (c.1842) from the series ‘Shiki no sugatami (Viewing Forms in the Four Seasons)‘ by Utagawa Kunisada


Sitting in front of two giant cushions depicting detailed floral motifs, a couple (the woman is an oiran, a high-class courtesan) is looking at a shunga book for inspiration. They are still in the introductory phase and are both caressing each other’s genitals. The screen in the background features two long-tailed bluebirds.

A young mesmerized woman is seen through the latticed windows of a brothel reading a shunga book

Fig.8. ‘A young mesmerized woman is seen through the latticed windows of a brothel reading a shunga book’ (c.1840)

Drops of Cherry Blossom' (c.1838) from the series 'Shunshoku hana no shizuku' (Erotic Drops of Flower Petals' by Keisai Eisen 

Fig.9. ‘Drops of Cherry Blossom‘ (c.1838) from the series ‘Shunshoku hana no shizuku’ (Erotic Drops of Flower Petals‘ by Keisai Eisen

intimate couple looking at a shunga album

Fig.10. A couple are looking at a shunga booklet. The open clothing shows the member of the man. (c.1840) from a koban-sized series entitled Raikô and the Terrestrial Spider attrib. to Kunisada

shunga shunga: YYoung female pleasing herself with a harigata while reading a shunga album by Hidenobu

Fig.11. ‘Young female pleasing herself with a harigata (strap-on dildo) while reading a shunga album in a warehouse‘ (c.1765) from the series ‘Ehon haru no yume‘ by  Kikukawa Hidenobu (active 1760s–1770s)

Click HERE and check out 6 exciting images with the sensual fantasies of lonesome masturbating beauties…!!!

*Koto is a Japanese stringed musical instrument. It is the national instrument of Japan. Usually they have 13 strings.
**oban yoko-e size is ca. 15″ x 10″ inches.

About the author
Marijn is the founder of With more than 20 years of experience within the sensual and erotic art of shunga he is an authority in the genre. During this time he served many customers with complementing their art collection.


on 11 Feb 2020

Funny recursion. Shunga within is still well-detailed and entertaining. I love this scrupulous approach of Japanese artists.



on 11 Feb 2020

Thanks Darya. Yes, it is actually two-fold. On the one hand, we see the impact of shunga on the then buyers of this product and how they used it, and on the other hand, we see how the artists themselves looked at shunga.

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