arrow_drop_up arrow_drop_down
29 September 2016 

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

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’)

Click HERE for more disturbing erotic art…!!!

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.


on 27 February 2020

Well, technically it's not an image of necrophilia. In 'The Necrophiliac' story by a French writer Gabrielle Wittkop this deviation logically had its' origin in main character's childhood, when he survived the death of his mother. The funeral ceremony coincided with the feeling of sexual pleasure of an eight-year kid, who was touching himself a short time before he was taken to the room with a dead body. So later he could be aroused only by corpses. On my opinion, the situation in the picture rather implies that the gravedigger loves this woman so much as he's ready to have sex even with her corpse, so it's rather a love-story, than an image of the sexual deviation. However one can say that here we see an illustration of the phrase 'dead girls can't say no', but there isn't any evidence of his obsession with this woman, otherwise he would kill her and then have sex with a corpse and it would be really 'dead girls can't say no' situation. So I tend to romanticize this design in spite of its' ominousness and think that here's a depiction of a tragic love. What's more interesting, the corpse is depicted in a pose of sexual bliss (look at curled toes!) and only her lifeless arms can point at fact that she is dead actually.



on 27 February 2020

Nice explanation, story, and observation Darya! Gives an interesting perspective on this theme. Thanks a lot....!!

Place comment

Do you already have a copy of our coveted eBook ?

We use cookies