Warai-e (comic or pornographic picture) is another name for shunga also known as “laughing pictures”. They were not necessarily supposed to be comical but were meant to be more esoteric, as they were part of a cultural or conceptual scope outside of the everyday domain of real-life morality.
The amusing example of today (a shikake-e – toy print) offers a wonderful fusion of humor and mystery. It is set in a dark forest featuring a young couple with the male caressing the private parts of the female with his entire hand (Fig.1). Besides them on the left stands a mysterious box.
Is This Her Fantasy?
When the flap is turned (Fig.2), the young male has been replaced by an enigmatic and muscular horse-figure wearing a stylish kimono performing cunnilingus. The image raises the question ‘Is this her fantasy?’ One gets the impression since the horse-figure is clearly the better lover. The artist Kunitora used subtle differences, such as the varying position of the toes on her right foot.
In a consecutive image (Fig.3) we see the horse sitting underneath a tree in a post-coital moment complacently licking his scrotum while resting his claw feet. The only partially visible moon (in the waning crescent phase) adds to the supernatural atmosphere.
The following striking warai-e print is by the artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) from his series ‘Kanadehon yakô no tama‘ (c.1830)…
In some kind of punishment ritual a woman has been tied down to posts in the ground while being a penetrated by a horse. The latter is encouraged by four excited villains. A bucket with “lubricant” is just up ahead.
A Horse Will Do
A young peasant girl (oharame) in a moment of sexual bliss (Fig.5). This type of peasant woman is generally linked to Ohara, a farming village north of Kyoto. Hence the name Oharame. They were easy to recognize by their distinctive clothing such as an apron, white leggings and rustic sandals. They are often depicted carrying bundles of firewood and coals. Her curled toes are a sign of ecstasy. Some of the text reads ‘the mountain woman’s strength: even a horse will do’.
In a garden behind the fence (Fig.6), a farmer, standing on a saddle, is penetrating his own horse. He holds the tail for easier access while the mare neighs excitedly. They are observed by a masturbating washerwoman. These kind of depictions were a way of the artists and their merchant patrons to poke fun at the higher-ranking farmer class.
The text left below reads ‘The strength of a peasant man. Even a horse can be his wife.’
‘Japanese Erotic Fantasies: Sexual Imagery of the Edo Period‘ by Chris Uhlenbeck (i.a.)
‘Japanese Erotic Art: The Hidden World of Shunga‘ by Ofer Shagan
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