Keisai Eisen 渓斎英泉 (1790–1848)
Tales of Sexual Conquest and the Violet of Edo
(Iro jiman edo murasaki), vol. 1 of 3

Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), 1836
Woodblock-printed book; ink and color on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

A common theme in shunga is the ever-present possibility of erotic encounters with strangers, and by incorporating paper flaps into their woodblock-printed books, shunga artists were able to communicate all the more convincingly the sudden, unexpected nature of such seductions. This story by Eisen begins with the playboy Getsurō navigating his boat down a river. As he passes beneath a bridge, a middle-aged geisha crossing the bridge above him drops one of her clogs into the river. The courteous Getsurō immediately retrieves the woman’s clog and returns it to her.

No good deed goes unrewarded: As we open the flaps of these pages, we find that Getsurō has seduced the geisha, who reveals herself to be the immortal Kōhekikō Chōshibobo in disguise, and in return for his kindness, the wizardess grants Getsurō supernatural abilities in the art of lovemaking.

To accentuate the bizarre nature of the story, in the couple’s pillow-talk, Eisen refers to a water-sprite (kappa), a supernatural creature that lurks at the bottom of rivers, grabs the legs of unsuspecting passersby, and pulls them in:

Wow, what a great vagina! It just sucks me right in! If it were an octopus, it would just stick to me, but since it retracts and pulls me in, perhaps we should call it a water-sprite vagina!

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