‘Tsui no hinagata (Models of Loving Couples)‘ is Hokusai‘s most famous and most popular shunga album. It was likely issued in the year 1812, when Hokusai was fifty-two. The varicolored shapes of boldly-patterned, loving couples fill each page, and the album comprises an authentic tour de force of erotic life among the plebeian classes of the period.
The album embodies the peak of Hokusai’s erotica: gone are the slightly awkward elements of his earlier figure depiction; and the artist was yet to give away to his tendency towards excessive attention to elaborate detail, and to the reduction of figures to monumental forms; to the detriment of erotic mood and effectiveness. Indeed, if one were to choose but one example to typify Japanese shunga, I think that this Hokusai masterpiece would be a logical choice.
Complex Play on Words
The title is a complex play on words that is difficult to translate and is known under various names such as Patterns of Loving Couples, Patterns of Coupling Couples (Richard Lane), Interlocking Patterns (Hayakawa), Picture-book: Patterns of Couples (Rosina Buckland), A Doll and Her Mate (Tom Evans) and Models of Loving Couples.
The above plate is the first one of the set and features an appealing scene of young love: a youngster in his late teens, his crown not yet shaved, has found his way into the boudoir of a shy young maiden, and abruptly initiates making love to her.
It’s not their first rendezvous, nevertheless, for he presses her with that tactless question preferred by reckless young men: “Last time, you said it was your first experience – but is that really true?” The maiden answers not with any protestations of chastity, but with a more honestly realistic,”How could it not be so? – I’ve never met someone I loved like you.”
This charming scene of a Spring night is almost overpowered, however, by the visual delights of the textiles depicted. In particular, the design is dominated by the wave-like pattern of the maiden’s furisode gown: with which she shyly covers her face – grasping the collar of her juban undergarment between het teeth. The young man reacts at this by saying, “Does it still hurt?” to which she replies, “No never.”
At lower-left will be seen a candelabra which the young man has brought along to find his way in the dark: together with the requisite tissue-papers.
Rosina Buckland in Shunga, Erotic Art in Japan on this design:
“The fabric of the robes and bedcover envelop the bodies of this young couple, filling the composition. The wave pattern on the woman’s robe with long sleeves (furisode) provides a particularly strong visual element. The man has crept into her room at night (the lantern he used to find his way in the dark stands at the side) and she hides her face in embarrassment. He asks her, ‘Is it really your first time?’
Click HERE and check out a striking plate from this series with a relaxing and their “pets”.
Sources: ‘The Complete Ukiyo-e Shunga – Hokusai and the Tsui no hinagata Shunga Album‘ (Vol.13) by Richard Lane
‘Shunga, Erotic Art in Japan‘ by Rosina Buckland