The Sensual Board Game Sugoroku by Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Marijn Kruijff
2 min

The Sensual Board Game Sugoroku by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

2 min

Tsukushi matsufuji no shiragami is an erotic parody of the kabuki play Karukaya (Dōshin tsukushi no Iezuto). It was first performed in the eighteenth century in Osaka and later revived, making its debut in Edo at the Kawarazaki Theatre in 1830. The play was an overwhelming success.

Kai Means Vulva

The plates of the shunga version loosely refer to the scenes from this wordy play, which lacks a clear story line. Kuniyoshi‘s pseudonym ‘Ichimyōkai Hodoyoshi’ appears several times in the three books. The character kai used in his name Ichimyōkai also means vulva.

Acrobatic threesome' (c.1830) from the series 'Tsukushi matsufuji no shiragami (The Matsufuji Weir in Kyushu)' by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Fig.1. ‘Acrobatic threesome‘ (c.1830) from the series ‘Tsukushi matsufuji no shiragami (The Matsufuji Weir in Kyushu)‘ by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) (Picture William Pearl)

Acrobatic Ensemble

Two women and a man entertain themselves in an acrobatic ensemble (Fig.1.). The screen in the background depicts a coastal scene. What this scene has to do with the kabuki play is uncertain. Maybe the river in the screen is the Kitsune River, which figures prominently in a number of scenes.

Hashidate witnessing the deflowering of her daughter Yushide

Fig.2. ‘Hashidate witnessing the deflowering of her daughter Yushide‘ (Picture William Pearl)

Lubricating Ointment

It is suggested in ‘Japanese Erotic Fantasies‘ that this design (Fig.2.) refers to the deflowering of Yushide, In that case, the shocked female in the doorpost is her mother Hashidate. The two shells on the floor in the foreground are perhaps the container for a lubricating ointment. The signature ‘Ichimyokai Hodoyoshi’ appears on the background screen.

Playing sugoroku on a kotatsu by Kuniyoshi

Fig.3. ‘ Playing e-sugoroku* on a kotatsu‘  (Picture William Pearl)

Board Game Sugoroku

In this scene (Fig.3.) we can see Chidori and Maki (no) Kata play the board game sugoroku*;  the character  of Shigeuchi looks on. The table cover can be lifted (Fig.4.) to reveal what is going on underneath the kotatsu (heater).

Scene with the lifted flap by Kuniyoshi

Fig.4. ‘Scene with the lifted flap‘ (c.1830) (Picture William Pearl)

Recently I came across this state of the “Sugoroku” design that lacks the flap…

Shunga scene with the lifted flap

Fig.5. ‘Adjusted impression without the flap‘ (c.1830)

A similar design was produced by Kunisada a couple of years earlier…


A smoking male is offering a “foot massage” to a young geisha underneath the kotatsu heater‘ (c.1826) from the series ‘Ehon kaidan yorutono‘ by Utagawa Kunisada

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Source: ‘Japanese Erotic Fanstasies‘ by Chris Uhlenbeck and Margarita Winkel

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*Sugoroku (means literally ‘double six’) is a Japanese board game that exists in two versions: ban-sugoroku (‘board-sugoroku’), similar to the western backgammon and e-sugoroku (‘picture-sugoroku’), which is similar to the western Snakes and Ladders.