Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重 (1797–1858)
Spring Night (Haru no yowa), vol. 2 of 3
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), 1851
Woodblock-printed book; ink and color on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

Scholars have concluded that the signature on this text, Yogoto no Sukishige, is one of Hiroshige's noms de plume. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the inscription on the right page (“Spring Night – Price: 1,000 ryō”) closely resembles definitive works of calligraphy by Hiroshige. The artist produced only a small number of explicitly erotic works, and they are not nearly as ambitious as the landscape prints for which he usually is remembered. Nevertheless, works such as this offer further proof that the most successful of ukiyo-e artists had little hesitation about dealing with erotic subject matter.

This book by Hiroshige includes an example of the ingenious fold-outs that shunga artists in the 19th century occasionally included in woodblock-printed books. When the book is first opened, the left page displays a portrait of a young woman wearing a scarf on her head and gazing to the left. A paper flap runs vertically down the right half of the page, and when the flap is turned, we see a stark close-up of the woman’s vagina; its position and the drapery around it are reminiscent of the portrait.

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