Japanese Sex Art

Recommended Sanderwich: Katsu Sando – a Japanese pork cutlet sandwich. Here is a link if you want to make one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTkyOjRUy6c


At the moment, I’m a bit like a public schoolboy who constantly makes crude jokes about fucking, when really all of his great sexual endeavours so far have ended up on a digestive1. What I mean is, I’m a bit obsessed with sex at the moment, because, you know, I’m not having any. The results of this are as follows: in the past two weeks alone I have been to two Japanese Sex Art exhibitions, and I’ve been to see Blue is the Warmest Colour at the flicks2. I may well be a sex-pervert, but by god, I’m a classy one.

            I went to the first Japanese Sex Art Exhibition by accident. I was in Cambridge and I had some time to kill. I’d heard that the FitzwilliamMuseum was worth a gander, so I went to check it out3.The museum is packed with a plethora of objects of interest, including paintings, furniture, crockery, pottery, armour, manuscripts and coins. I wandered around the rooms of paintings, and after finding the French Expressionist room (round which I spoke to myself in a French accent because I know how to have a good time), I started to leaf through the booklet they’d given me when I came in. One page advertised ‘The Night of Longing: Love and desire in Japanese prints’. Now this is an exhibition I can get behind4, I thought. The booklet told me that the exhibition was on in the Shiba Gallery, corresponding to room number 14 on my floor plan. But, try as I might I couldn’t find it; the Shiba Gallery was as elusive as the clitoris5. In the end I had to ask a lady where the (dramatic pause) Shiba Gallery was and as it turned out, you had to access it via another floor6. By the time I finally reached the room, which was modestly covered so one couldn’t see inside, I was absolutely gagging for it7.

            There are two kinds of Japanese Sex Art: the kind that turns you on, and the kind that doesn’t. No, there really are two types. There is abuna-e, pictures that are risqué or erotic, and then there are shunga or ‘spring pictures’, which are your more full on porny kind of picture. In the small room at the Fitzwilliam, there were more of the former, and also some scenery pictures of the floating world. The floating world is a term that describes the culture of the state-sanctioned and licensed red-light district in some Japanese cities during the Edo period (1600-1867), where there were Geisha and courtesans in brothels, and there were tea-houses, and theatres. The woodblock prints are very beautiful things, designed by great artists and cut by skilled carvers. The floating world is very theatrical, with a touch of the illicit, so the prints are really thrilling to behold. In the erotic pictures the figures, especially the ladies are dressed in sumptuous fabrics that are billowing open here and there. They are very sensual. There were a few of the more hardcore shunga, and I left a very satisfied customer8.

            It wasn’t until later that day when I was chatting to my Step-mum, that I found out that there was a whole other exhibition of Japanese Sex Art at the BritishMuseum. About a week later, curious to see what a bigger one would be like9, I went. It was extensive, even including some Chinese Sex Art. There were many more explicit pictures in this one, both woodblock prints and some hand-painted on scrolls. In the pictures, the gentials, both male and female, are often exaggerated and show everything including full penetration. In most instances, both the men and women are shown as experiencing pleasure. The fabrics and flora are depicted in intricate detail and often with amazing colours, and in contrast the bodies, particularly the female bodies, as they are the palest are notable for their absence of colour. The female bodies are often drawn with sweeping, curvaceous outlines, the only detailing appearing on their faces and vaginas. Many of them were made by famous artists, because during this period sex pictures were not seen as taboo. Sex was seen as a normal, natural part of life. These pictures were aids for arousal as well as art – there was no art/porn distinction. As well as this, many of them were comedic, and have stories and captions. Later on, shunga became more controversial with the influence of Western ideas as sex for pleasure as shameful or sinful10.


            I will now give you some brief descriptions of the funniest/weirdest shunga I saw at the BritishMuseum:

1) A picture of Buddha as a massive cock.

2) A series of pictures on a scroll of a shaven-headed nun having sex with a priest. As I ‘read’ it left to right first time, it went – nun and priest do it, nun and priest do it whilst he is half in a sack, nun and priest still kinda doing it with priest now fully enveloped by sack. I don’t know how much more sense it makes reading it the right way round.  

3) A man shrunk to the size of a tiny man who is farting in disapproval on an old man trying to have sex with a much younger woman.

4) A man trying to go down on a woman as she says “That’s dirty” and he says “What are you talking about?! That’s where you’re born from!”. Well said, sir.

5) A picture of a giant octopus going down on a woman, its giant tentacles caressing her. Another octopus is kissing her. It’s seriously weird, but I have to admit, I find it quite erotic.


            I highly recommend both exhibitions. The images of sex are tender, striking, disturbing, comical and extremely beautiful. As somebody who sometimes worries that she may never do it again in her life, who looks into a bleak future bereft of the intimacies and pleasures of banging hard, it reminded me that sex is not something to feel ashamed of or fraught about, that though it may well be ridiculous, it is a natural joy, whether it’s a moment of lust or in a long-lasting, loving relationship. But most of all, it taught me that I should definitely go to an aquarium on my next outing11.


Sex Joke Count

1. Soggy biscuit joke.

2. Yes, that was a wank joke.

3. Check it out, like in a sexy way.

4. Get behind, and do it with, doggy style!

5. Not that elusive at all.

6. This is actually not a joke about some weird sex position or anything.

7. Straightforward sex joke.

8. Orgasm joke.

9. Knob gag.

10. Because it is. It’s totally disgusting.

11. Japanese Sex Art octopus cunnilingus joke.


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