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19 december 2019 

Yakumo no chigiri: One of the Last Great Examples of the Shunga Genre

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.

Hair Embellishments

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.

Emotional Framework

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 shungaYakumo 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.

Nostalgia

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.

European Influence

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.

Revolutionary Effect

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…

Front of the album 'Yakumo no chigiri (Pledge of Yakumo)' (c.1896) by Tomioka Eisen

Fig.1. Front of the album ‘Yakumo no chigiri (Pledge of Yakumo)‘ (c.1896)

Yakumo no chigiri: Opening plate with poem

Fig.2. ‘Opening plate with poem

Yakumo no chigiri: masturbating female

Fig.3.

Pornographic Sense

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.

Yakumo no chigiri: female on top

Fig.4.

Kimono

The passionate woman in this image clearly takes the lead in this encounter. She uses her kimono to embrace her lover tightly.

Yakumo no chigiri: high-ranking courtesan making love to a client

Fig.5.

See second paragraph above for the description of this design.

Yakumo no chigiri: A courtesan embracing her secret lover who has wrapped his head in a scarf.

Fig.6.

Scarf

A courtesan embracing her secret lover who has wrapped his head in a scarf. The posture of the woman’s leg recalls Hokusai’s well-known design with the copulating pair of fisher folk.

Yakumo no chigiri: Geisha and young Buddhist monk

Fig.7.

Chinese-style Carpet

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.

Yakumo no chigiri: A couple engage in sexual intercourse with the woman in the cowgirl position.

Fig.8.

Cowgirl

A couple engage in sexual intercourse with the woman in the cowgirl position.

Yakumo no chigiri: an inexperienced intimate couple

Fig.9.

Inexperienced

A young inexperienced couple are getting ready for some intimacy. The female is leaning against a black tansu (traditional Japanese chest).

Yakumo no chigiri: kiseru smoking couple

Fig.10.

Kiseru

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.

Yakumo no chigiri: A mature male lover approaches his lover from behind while stroking her belly.

Fig.11.

Belly

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.

Fig.12.

Ashtray

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.

Depersonalization

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.

Yakumo no chigiri: 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.

Fig.13.

Darker Skin

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.

Yakumo no chigiri: A composition from an unusual point of view where the eyes of the spectator are led to the genitals of the protagonists.

Fig.14.

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….!!

Sources:

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…!!

About the author
Albert
By

Albert

on 20 December 2019

Image 12 is a design that I have seen more often. Eisen is great!

Marijn
By

Marijn

on 20 December 2019

Thanks a lot Albert. You're right, it's an iconic design that has been copied many times!

Darya
Marijn
By

Marijn

on 9 March 2020

That's very perceptive Darya. Thanks as always!

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