I’d guess a lot of visitors to my blog come in the hope of finding pictures of naked women or people having sex. I mean, much of my published work offers just that: pictures, albeit in words, of erotic activities. Some bloggers do offer lots of sexy images to spice up their words--just check out the “Sex” section of my blog roll!
I usually stick with words, but today, I decided to join the dirty picture bloggers in my own historical, Japan-tinted way in honor of my upcoming interview on the super-sexy and very visually satisfying UK blog Lust Bites. In my interview I talk a bit about Japanese shunga, literally “spring pictures.” Spring picture scrolls and prints were the racier cousin of the famous ukiyo-e of the Edo period (which lasted from the early seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries). Most of the famous woodblock artists also did a little shunga-drawing on the side, and their reputations didn’t seem to suffer at all. If only our society was so open-minded!
I’ve always been intrigued by Japanese erotica, but I must admit the huge, magnified genitals in most of the prints made them more of a curiosity than a turn-on. Then I read Sex and the Floating World by Timon Screech. If you’re at all into art history, I highly recommend this book, a witty and enlightening exploration of erotic images in Edo-period Japan (it's currently available at a terribly inflated price on Amazon, but maybe you can find a reasonably-priced copy somewhere or check your university library?). I learned for example, that shunga were known as “laughing pictures” because one of the slang terms for masturbation was “laughing.” Now isn’t that more merry than “self-abuse”?
I was also introduced to the erotic images of Suzuki Harunobu and suddenly shunga took on a whole new dimension for me. I’d found my artist. Harunobu does not enlarge the genitals of his lovers to absurd proportions (although, to be my own devil’s advocate, I have suggested that the large genitals symbolize how you feel during sex—like one big, throbbing cunt or cock). They are real and tinted in pale, appealing colors. The faces of his lovers are as much a focus and the expressions are fascinating and complex. He is nothing if not elegant and his images are rich with suggestion, although certainly explicit enough. The image you see above, “Autumn Moon of the Mirror Stand” has inspired several of my stories, including “Spring Pictures,” “Courtesan with a Lover” and a scene in my novel, Amorous Woman, where Lydia and her wealthy company-president lover act out scenes from Harunobu’s work. The mirrors, the focus on female pleasure, the touch of melancholy to the scene, the samurai's knowing touch--something about the combination fires my imagination again and again. Now that’s a dirty picture that has spawned many thousands of words!