Unidentified Artist 作家名不明
Laughing Book: Sea of the Bedroom
(Ehon toko no umi 絵本閨の海)

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), 18th century
Woodblock-printed book; ink on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

One characteristic of the guild system in early modern and pre-modern Japan was the unquestioning submission expected of an apprentice (typically a wakashū), offering an unscrupulous master opportunities for demands that could be considered rather unprofessional. Here, the artist offers a hyperbolic example of that imbalance of power. The tone of this image stands in stark contrast to that of the print Sexual Misconduct by Suzuki Harunobu (1725?-1770), shown elsewhere in this exhibition.

While the bystander shown in Harunobu’s artwork (a stand-in for the viewer) is filled with moral outrage, here a coworker appears completely nonplussed by the libidinous carpenter’s indulgence in actual nanshoku (“male love”). Despite its obvious comical tone, scenes such as this argue that, though adult men were privileged in Edo society, the most vulnerable members of that society were not necessarily women.

View this book in its entirety on museum database (enabled through support by the Robert F. Lange Foundation)