Nishizawa Ippū 西沢一風 (1665-1731)
Hanbei II 二代半兵衛 (act. 1690-1709)
Esoteric Sexual Traditions
(Kōshoku gokuhiden 好色極秘伝)

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), c. 1703-1706
Woodblock-printed book; ink on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

The first half of this collaborative work by the author Nishizawa Ippū and the print designer Hanbei II portrays characters from classical literature, including Prince Genji, protagonist of the classical novel The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari ) by Murasaki Shikibu (c. 973- c. 1014), as well as the legendary warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189), both popular subjects of ukiyo-e prints. The second half of the text depicts characters from Jōruri puppet plays and ukiyo-e prints, and the text concludes with portraits of tragic heroines immortalized by the novelist Ihara Saikaku (1642-93).

Hanbei II’s illustration here elaborates even further upon the story of Tora Gozen (b. 1175), already introduced in Okumura Toshinobu’s print on display nearby, and pushes it to even more fanciful extremes. Despite the recent death of both of their lovers, Gozen and her female companion Kewaizaka no Shōshō appear to have overcome their feelings of grief or rage and have developed a rather intense and unexpected interest in one another.

Japanese erotica produced before the 20th century that discusses female-female sexual relationships is almost as rare as such works that depict homosexual encounters between adult men. The reason for such an absence has not been sufficiently explained, nor is it clear for what sort of audience an image such as this was intended.

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