Utagawa Kunimaro 歌川國麿 (active c. 1830–1870)
Erotic Book
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), c. 1830–1870
Woodblock-printed book; ink and color on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

The individual traditionally credited with transmitting Dhyāna (Chinese: Ch’an; Japanese: Zen) Buddhism from India to Japan is Bodhidharma (active c. 5th-6th century), who is affectionately referred to in Japan as Dharma. Little biographical information about the monk remains. According to legend, at one time he secluded himself in a cave and performed sitting meditation (zazen) continuously for nine years, and due to lack of use, his legs and arms atrophied.

This legend is reflected in Japanese folk (Dharma) dolls, which are round in shape. When jostled, such a doll will roll onto its side, but since the bottom is weighted, it soon rolls back to its original position. During the Edo period (1615–1868), prostitutes were referred to as Dharma dolls, since they would temporarily “roll over” to entertain a client. Ukiyo-e artists such as Suzuki Harunobu (1725?–1770) often portrayed Dharma, with his distinctive red cowl, in the company of a prostitute. In this work by Kunimaro, a portrait of a prostitute appears on the left page, but on the right page, a portrait of Dharma has been transformed into a vagina.

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