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27 September 2016 

Check Out the Uneasy Dialogue Between a Courtesan and Her Client

An abuna-e (risky pictures) piece by Keisai Eisen (1790-1848) featuring a couple sensing each other. The woman is an oiran (a high-class courtesan) as her numerous luxurious hair-pins indicate. She is acting a bit reluctant to the advances of her client.

Uneasy Tension

Eisen masterfully captures the uneasy tension and gives us, the viewer, the impression the protagonists are talking to us. The translation of the text below suggests indeed that the man is looking for recognition.

 A couple is sensing each other. The woman is an oiran.

Relaxing couple‘ from the series ‘Masukagami (Clear Mirror)‘, c.1820s. Abuna-e design by Keisai Eisen

The translation (by Airi Nakano) of the Japanese text reads:

Man: “I might be a man who is a bit too cheap for a frontispiece. Nosy people say that our relationship is close or distant…etc., once I have become more than a regular customer, and an important and valued person. But I was given the benefit of the doubt because of this good relationship. So please consider this situation, and treat me with sympathy.”


This design is the opening page (frontispiece) of a shunga book. These kind of pages (abuna-e) were in general more suggestive and innocent than the following pages that were no holds barred explicit renderings of intimate couples. The shunga (erotic) albums consisting of 12 oban or chuban prints often also included an abuna-e as the opening image in order to build up the tension for the upcoming confrontational sheets. Eisen was a master in portraying these kind of images.

Click here for a translation of Keisai Eisen’s ‘Kiyohito and the Thirteen Hookers’-design

The following video features explicit shunga pieces designed by Keisai Eisen:

Mijn film (Eisen - Izanami series)

Let me know your thoughts on the abuna-e design! Do you like the background info?

About the author
Marijn is the founder of With more then 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.
Ilmar Ervin Goldbergs

Ilmar Ervin Goldbergs

on 13 March 2020

Very good.



on 13 March 2020

Thanks Ilmar!

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