Toyokuni’s Shocking Shunga Design ‘Gravedigger And Corpse’
Marijn Kruijff
1 min

Utagawa Toyokuni's Shocking Shunga Design 'Gravedigger And Corpse'

1 min

A horrifying scene with a gravedigger having sex with the corpse of an acquaintance. A groundbreaking design that changed the shunga genre and introduced a more subversive approach.

A gravedigger has decided to have sexual intercourse with the corpse of a dead woman.

Gravedigger and corpse‘ (c.1822) from the series ‘Call of Geese Meeting at Night‘. Designed by Utagawa Toyokuni

Translation of the Japanese text (by Shirakura Yoshihiko):

Gravedigger: “In my life my love for this woman was great, but nothing could be done about our differences in birth. But now whether corpse or ghost, such things are of no matter and and I´m grateful.”

Comments on this Utagawa Toyokuni design by Higuchi Kazukata  (translated by Timothy Clark):

“The erotic book ‘Ōyogari no koe (Call of the Geese Meeting at Night)’ of 1822 by Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825) is a work with twenty-six highly worked pictures that illustrate short erotic stories by Utei Enba II (1792-1862) and which on the whole invite laughter. However, among these is one picture that makes us want to shudder and turn away. In the place where bodies are washed before burial, a graveyard worker is depicted as single-mindedly violating the corpse of a woman he had known while she was alive and with whom he wanted to have sex. In other words, this is an image of necrophelia.

More Violent and Shocking

The very fact that she is now completely beyond the power to resist makes this all the more violent and shocking. I have written elsewhere on how this actual historical incident of 1809, which was then adapted for a kabuki play in 1810, and no doubt further embellished in the dark fantasies of the author Enba II. This is without a doubt the most grotesque scene that occurs in late Edo-period shunga and yet there are occasionally other cruel depictions that also repel us.” (Excerpt from the article ‘Violence in Shunga from the book ‘Shunga, Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art’)

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