Three Influential Designs from Twelve Bouts on the Way of Sensuality
Marijn Kruijff
2 min

Three Influential Designs from Twelve Bouts on the Way of Sensuality

2 min

Koryusai‘s large oban series ‘Twelve Bouts on the Way of Sensuality‘ (c.1775-77) is famous for its designs in which the figures almost fill the entire image and the introduction of the portrayal of larger genitalia.


In comparison with earlier Koryusai series the figures are bolder and more robust and the size of their bodies is further emphasized by the narrow spaces where the sexual activities occur. The designs breathe a more salacious atmosphere than his earlier prints.

Birdlike Perspective

Another unusual compositional feature in ‘Twelve Bouts on the Way of Sensuality‘ is the use of the so-called fukinuki yatai (blown-off roof perspective) in some of the prints.The portrayal of a space without a roof or ceiling allows the viewer to have a clear birdlike perspective of the activities below.

Plate 2 from ‘Twelve Bouts on the Way of Sensuality‘ (c.1775-77) by Isoda Koryusai (1735-1790)

Music Book

An erotic interlude is presented in this print. Apparently, the young woman was playing the shamisen a little earlier, considering the presence of the instrument and a music book in the background.

Paulownia Leaves

Now, however, she is completely entwined with her male visitor and they are busy fulfilling each other’s desires. The wall in the background is decorated with paulownia leaves. As is true throughout the series, the protagonists are actively backed up colorful floor-mats, sliding doors and other accouterments.

Twelve bouts on the way of sensuality

Plate 5

Rococo Effect

Plate 5 is a perfect example of the rococo effect in Koryusai’s later shunga: the loving couple forms a round, netsuke-like cameo at the center, enveloped by the colorful ground and background, as a seed is by its fruit.

Aerial Perspective

The woman and her partner are shown making love from an aerial perspective. The tissues are within reach at the end of the futon, as is the black-lacquered tobacco set.


There is hardly any room beyond the futon, as the walls, the sliding doors decorated with stylized waves, and the folding screen, and the folding screen at bottom right are placed very close to them. It is important that they control their passionate movements to avoid slipping off the futon.

Plate 6

Floating in a Stream

A remarkable composition in which the woman is ‘in control’ and has impudently turned her naked buttocks to the viewer. Her clothes are decorated with maples leaves floating in a stream.

King-size Penis

In addition, the man’s king-size penis, which seems to have found its destination, has been placed right in front of the viewer’s eyes and is impossible to ignore. Moreover, when looking at this print, one’s attention is immediately drawn to this spot and it is only later that the viewer’s gaze continues to the heads that belong to these genitals.


The couple, holding each other tight, are looking at a tobacco pouch and pipe in the foreground. There is a black-lacquered haribako with a fan design behind them. It contains a pincushion, a pair of scissors, and a card with thread wrapped around it lies next to it. The branches of a pine tree are visible through the window.

Click HERE for more articles on other designs from Twelve Bouts on the Way of Sensuality…!!

Source: ‘Japanese Erotic Prints: shunga by Harunobu & Koryusai‘ by Inge Klompmakers

If you have any suggestions for future subjects on shunga or adjacent art forms please let us know in the comment box below…!!