‘Yakumo no chigiri (Pledge of Yakumo)‘ by Tomioka Eisen (1864-1905) extended the tradition of the luxurious shunga album and is widely acknowledged as the last great example of the genre. Probably published at the New Year of 1896 by the publisher Waka Tokutarō as a present to his colleagues, it utilizes outstanding draftsmanship and printing.
A nice example of this is the fourth tableau in the album (Fig.5). We see a high-ranking courtesan (identifiable by her intricate hair embellishments), who was lying down to read a novel before she was interrupted by her male lover. She throws back her head in pleasure as he penetrates her.
Her red underskirts provide an emotional framework for the genitalia, given equal visual weight as the head of the protagonists, as had been the case in preceding shunga. Yakumo no chigiri preserves the conventional format of twelve pictures, and the settings, decorations and figures are basically unchanged from the shunga of the Edo period.
The atmosphere of the album transmits little of its own Meiji era (1868-1912) and turns out to be respectful of the traditional technique, suffused with nostalgia. The designs have been attributed to Tomioka Eisen, best known for his frontispiece illustrations (kuchi-e) for magazines and novels.
Yakumo no chigiri is in many ways a fascinating album. The quality of the woodblock printing is excellent by any standards, and the drawings are often original in their poses. The style shows heavy European influence, and a concern with volume, proportion and perspective, which suspend it halfway between Western and Japanese values.
It was the Meiji period’s rejection of ukiyo-e as vulgar, plebeian and tasteless that allowed the first great Western collections to be made, and that enabled the Japanese print to exercise its revolutionary effect on European artists.
Below you can check out the album in its entirety…
The first tableau portrays a young female engaged in the act of masturbation. The representation does underline a pornographic sense with the woman softly caressing her private parts. Her other hand rests on the book that served as inspiration. There is also an explicit version of this design.
The passionate woman in this image clearly takes the lead in this encounter. She uses her kimono to embrace her lover tightly.
See second paragraph above for the description of this design.
Resting on a blue Chinese-style carpet, a woman holds her partner’s member. She steadies herself by holding onto a takamakura (geisha pillow). Used tissues are scattered around her and her lover, who happens to be a young Buddhist monk.
A couple engage in sexual intercourse with the woman in the cowgirl position.
A young inexperienced couple are getting ready for some intimacy. The female is leaning against a black tansu (traditional Japanese chest).
Couple exchanging a kiseru (traditional Japanese smoking pipe) lying on the bed. The male protagonist is largely covered by the blanket and also the female is only partly visible as if they are just playing a supporting role in the composition.
A mature male lover approaches his lover from behind while stroking her belly.
In terms of setting this design has little to distinguish it from a work of previous decades. Illustrated erotic books have obviously served to arouse the couple, with a tobacco pipe and ashtray beside them.
Striking is the depersonalization of the two bodies that deviate from the loving embraces depicted by earlier ukiyo-e artists, hinting at the shift towards something more like pornography as that category has been understood in the West.
Two lovers under mosquito-netting, the man’s darker skin a striking contrast against the whiteness of his partner’s flesh and the red cloth.
Point of View
A composition from an unusual point of view where the eyes of the spectator are led to the genitals of the protagonists.
Click HERE for the explicit version and detailed description of the first design (Fig.3) depicting the masturbating female….!!
‘Shunga, Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art‘ issued by the British Museum
‘Shunga, Erotic Art in Japan‘ by Rosina Buckland
‘Shunga, the Art of Love in Japan‘ by Tom and Mary Evans
Who is your favorite shunga artist of the Meiji era? Do you prefer ukiyo-e or the Meiji style?
Leave your feedback in the comment box below…!!