Sugimura Jihei 杉村治兵衛 (fl. c. 1681-1703)
Amorous Couples Frolicking in the Summer Heat

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), c. 1685
Woodblock print; ink on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1991

A young man and woman face off against one another in a naked, improvised game of kendō (sword fighting), while a judge (gyoji) sits in the distance, awaiting the outcome of the fight, at which time he will indicate the victor with the war fan (gunbai uchiwa) that he holds in his left hand. For the moment, however, the judge’s attention appears to have strayed to an attractive spectator sitting near him.

Jihei’s whimsical, nonsensical image foreshadows the direction in which shunga will later develop in the late 18th and 19th centuries. As audiences began to tire of parodies about classical literature, sexual escapades in the world of Kabuki theater, and tales of the Yoshiwara, artists explored various other approaches to sexuality, some of which abandoned narrative coherence and focused entirely upon alluring, slightly transgressive imagery.

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