Depictions with tattoos in ukiyo-e shunga appear since the mid-eighteenth century but not in earlier hand-painted works. The men wearing tattoos represented the underworld of criminal gangs (yakuza) and highway brigands.
Every now and then, men with tattoos of dragons, gods or symbols of their bad nature (such as skeletons or dice) are portrayed having peaceful intercourse with their lovers but more often they are more often shown committing violent rape. Sometimes these tattooed villains brutalize the woman’s partner or tie him up and force him to watch.
‘Tattooed client with courtesan on a pleasure boat‘ (c.1850) attributed to Koikawa Shozan (1831-1907)
‘A tattooed intruder is standing on the head of a bald-headed male’ (c.1839) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)
Occasionally men appear tattooed with the image of a woman or name. Most are clearly in love, spying on the woman while she is with someone else. Perhaps the message these shunga were trying to convey was a moral one for society: if you join the Yakuza, not only will you fail to get the woman you love, you might even have to endure seeing her with another man.
‘Tattooed intruder‘ (c.1837) from the series ‘The Eight Dog Heroes of the Satomi Clan‘ by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)
Parodies of this subject are also found, such as a woman having intercourse with her lover while holding up a mask of Hannya, a female demon considered to be a guardian of women, to frighten a tattooed man. When Kuniyoshi introduced the heavily tattooed Suikoden Heroes in 1827 he not only caused a tattoo hype in Japan, but all over the world and to this day.
‘Suikoden hero Tanmeijiro Genshogo having sex with the Princess of the Island of Women‘ (c.1828) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)
‘Tattooed client in an illegal brothel‘ from the series ‘Ama no ukibashi (The Floating Bridge of Heaven)‘ by Yanagawa Shigenobu (1787-1832)
‘Tattooed fireman and lover‘ (c.1836) from the series ‘Shunjo gidan mizuage-cho‘ by Utagawa Kunisada
‘Tattooed ruffian and lover‘ (c.1827) from the series ‘Prospects for the Four Seasons (Shunka shuto shiki no nagame)‘ by Utagawa Kunisada
Detail ‘Tattooed back’
‘Tattooed villain‘ (c.1853) from the series ‘The Flower’s Smile (Hana no egao)‘ by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)
Classic design portraying a distracted love-making couple. Kuniyoshi paid elaborate attention to the details of the large back tattoo.
‘Rape by tattooed villain‘ (c.1850) by Utagawa school
‘Completely naked tattooed male making love to his lover‘ (c.1900) by an unknown Meiji artist
‘Tattooed lover with dragon tattoo‘ (Meiji era) by an unidentified artist
Detail dragon tattoo
‘Tattooed man and lover‘ (4th Month Meiji 38/1905) from the series ‘The Scent of the Flower (Hana no kaori)‘ attributed to Tomioka Eisen (1866-1908)
‘Tattooed hoodlum takes his lover from the rear‘ (c.1850) by a member of the Utagawa school
‘Sashichi and Koito‘ (c.1840) by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)
Stabbed to Death
The heavily-tattooed fireman Sashichi is having intercourse with his lover, the geisha Koito. At the end of this tragic love story he will stab her to death. In the heart-shaped cartouche we can see a sedan chair, a lantern and the knife that marks the end of their affair.
‘Tattooed male and geisha on the second floor of a brothel‘ (c.1835) from the series ‘Hana goyomi (Calendar of Flowers)‘ by Utagwa Kuniyoshi (Image by KuniyoshiProject.com)
Painting ‘Passionate threesome with a tattooed male‘ (c.1930) by an unknown Japanese artist
‘Tattooed man with a yūjo (prostitute)‘ (c.1860s) from the series ‘Koi no Minamoto (The Source of Love)‘ by Ikkokai Meshimori
Detail of the back tattoo
‘Male tattooing his name to the inner thigh of his female lover‘ (c.1850) from the series ‘Charming Figures: Double Sided Mirrors‘ by Utagawa school
Painting depicting an intimate man sporting a dragon tattoo (c.1900)
Detail of the previous painting
This video features more striking shunga tattoo designs:
Contemporary tattoo artists are still using the ancient shunga designs as inspiration for their artwork:
Picture of a tattooed Yakuza member (early 1900s)
Shunga tattoo of Hokusai’s The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife (in reverse)
Shunga tattoo designs by Dan Sinnes
Tattoo of a ‘genital demon‘
Shunga art by Alina Vives
‘Geisha demon with vulva face‘
Preparatory drawing for a tattoo
Click HERE for striking shunga art by Kuniyoshi that is among the tattoo artists’ favorites…!!!
Some of the above pieces are available for sale in our gallery and the prices can be found by clicking on the concerning picture…!!!