Social Issues in Shunga: The Usage of Erotica by Women

A common misunderstanding about shunga is the assumption that it was produced for an exclusively male audience, and one of the most promising subjects of contemporary research on Japanese erotica focuses on the surprisingly plentiful works whose explicit imagery was intended for female viewers.

Works of shunga that depict women responding in a sexual manner to woodblock prints remind us that sometimes the most erotically charged imagery is far from explicit. As with paintings and prints of fully-dressed prostitutes, which were, according to numerous depictions in shunga, occasionally used as masturbatory aids by men, portraits of Kabuki actors seem to have served a similar function. Ironically, the works of Japanese art that are most commonly displayed in public spaces such as this museum are those that stirred the most intimate emotions and provoked the most passionate reactions in Japanese viewers two hundred years ago.