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Sexuality in japanese art


Yet this is one of the most famous pictures by Hokusaiperhaps the greatest Japanese print artist of his or any other time.

Rembrandt did some etchings of couples having sex. Picasso did many erotic pictures, as did Degas, Toulouse Lautrec and Rodin. George Grosz did some remarkably kinky watercolours. But erotic art was never in the mainstream of European art, or any artistic tradition that I can think of, except that of Japan. Even ancient Greece was not quite in the same league. Almost all the major Japanese artists of the 17th and 18th centuries depicted sexual intercourse — Sexuality in japanese art men, women, foxes, donkeys, ghosts and even the odd stingray.

Thousands of books were published with erotic prints. And although sometimes frowned on by government officials, they were bought in large numbers by people Sexuality in japanese art all classes. Unlike, say, the kabuki theatre, shunga were not even confined to the beautiful but often raffish culture of Sexuality in japanese art brothel districts: These taboos had little to do with sexual preference: One of the earliest erotic handscrolls, from the 15th century, shows a Buddhist priest casting longing glances at his young acolyte.

Indeed, among some samurai, male love was considered superior to the heterosexual kind. Women were necessary to produce children, but male love was purer, more refined. One reason might be found in the nature of Japanese religion.

In early modern Japan, ,...

The oldest native ritual tradition, Shinto, was, like most ancient cults, a form of nature worship, to do with fertility, mother goddesses, and Sexuality in japanese art forth.

This sometimes took the form of worshipping genitals, male as well as female. There are still Shinto shrines today, where Sexuality in japanese art go to stroke wooden phalluses in the hope of getting children. In certain rural festivals, phallic objects are carried through the streets Sexuality in japanese art be joined with sacred vulvas produced from other shrines. Even though realistic representation was rarely the aim of classical Japanese painting, the genitals in most shunga seem particularly out of whack.

Here is a quote from a 13th-century text: They depict the size of 'the thing' far too large. How Sexuality in japanese art it actually be like that? If it were depicted in its actual size, there would be nothing of interest.

For that very reason, don't we say 'art is fantasy'? Reading this item in the exhibition catalogue, I am reminded of a striptease show I once saw in Kyoto, the ancient imperial capital. While the nude dancer squatted on the edge of the stage, magnifying glasses were handed out Sexuality in japanese art the men sitting in the front row. These aficionados proceeded to inspect every anatomical detail in solemn silence.

To call this a religious rite would be pretentious. But it was more than just an entertaining fantasy. Merchants used them to ward off fires in their storehouses. As is true of so much in the Japanese tradition, this goes back to Chinese sources. Another Chinese term for them was "fire-avoiding pictures". However, China being China, the purpose of these works was didactic rather than hedonistic.

They were mostly sex manuals, meant to instruct men in particular how to conserve their vitality and Sexuality in japanese art their health. Human vitality is expressed in the word "qi", meaning life force or vital energy.

To what extent Chinese men lived by this rule, I do not know. But Chairman Mao was probably not the last Chinese potentate who believed that his longevity required frequent sexual communion with much younger women. The Japanese were far less bothered with the medical aspects of erotic art, and more interested in the possibilities of pleasure.

Sexuality in japanese art 16th-century Japanese doctor, named Manase Dosan, translated an ancient Chinese sex manual, but as the scholar Aki Ishigami observes in her catalogue essay: Rather it shows a rebellious spirit against social conventions and a taste for the grotesque.

Here, too, there is probably a religious angle, which might best be illustrated by one of the most ancient Japanese myths. One day the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami withdrew into her cave in a huff, depriving the world of light. To entice her back, the gods staged an orgy outside the cave's entrance and one of them performed a striptease, which Sexuality in japanese art so much laughter among the gods, that Amaterasu couldn't resist emerging from her hiding place.

And so there was light. A remarkable number of erotic pictures are parodies of one sort or another. This was an important aspect of the culture of the pleasure districts in premodern Japan. Prostitutes in expensive brothels adopted the names of grand aristocratic ladies from the 11th-century Tale of Genji. Ancient emperors, samurai rulers and famous nobles were depicted in all kinds of erotic entanglements in shunga. Since Sexuality in japanese art Japan was a highly authoritarian society, political satire was Sexuality in japanese art, but not at all unknown.

Sexuality in japanese art it was the rebellious laughter at the expense of officialdom that got artists into serious trouble with government censors. Nishikawa Sukenobu's salacious images of an 11th-century aristocratic ruler having sex with a Sexuality in japanese art poet showed sufficient disrespect for the social order that it might have provoked the ban in on erotic publications. Later, the great Kitagawa Utamaro got into trouble for poking fun at Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the 16th-century warlord who unified Sexuality in japanese art. The point, then, was not sex per se, but political or social subversiveness.

The cat and mouse game between artists, using sexual imagery or grotesque caricature, and official censors continued until very recently. Specifically, it related to the book of still photographs from the film; the movie had already been butchered by the censors.

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Oshima was tried for "obscenity", but the real issue was his rebelliousness: Or, rather, as Oshima himself put it, public morals were a highly political issue. This was probably the case inSexuality in japanese art — without too much effect. Erotic art just went underground for a while. But it reoccured in a more serious way afterwhen Sexuality in japanese art old samurai order collapsed and Sexuality in japanese art replaced by a modernising, westernising state.

Part of this effort was an official obsession with respectability. Old, "primitive" ribald Japan had to be cleaned up.

Shunga ("spring pictures") is the...

So there was no way that shunga could remain in the mainstream. Indeed, in the eyes of the Meiji period patriarchs, it would have been best to get rid Sexuality in japanese art erotic art altogether.

Feudal Japan is often idealized...

The novelist Yukio Mishima likened Meiji Japan to a bourgeois housewife sweeping all the dirt away before guests come to call. Sexuality in japanese art, in photography as well as painting and prints, continued to produce erotic stuff. Indeed, the most democratic period of prewar Japan, the "Taisho democracy" of the roaring 20s, was known for ero guro nansensu culture, short for "erotic, grotesque, absurd". As in the past, Sexuality in japanese art censors were more worried about subversion and social disorder than sex.

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