Utagawa Kunimori 歌川国盛 (active c. 1818–1830)
Erotic Paper Puppet: First Love—Plum Tree Near the Window
(Hatsukoi mado no ume)

Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), 1867
Articulated woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

From simply carved, brightly painted kokeshi dolls to spring-loaded, technically sophisticated karakuri ningyō figurines, puppetry has been an important aspect of Japanese art history since the Edo period (1615–1868). These figurines were intended more for the amusement of adults than for children, and, as indicated by the fact that kokeshi is a coded synonym for dildo (harigata), they were closely connected to the sexual culture of early modern Japan.

As a way of promoting his series of woodblock prints Famous Locations for Lovemaking in Asakusa (Shunjō Asakusa meisho), Utagawa Kunimori (active c. 1818–1830) and his unidentified publisher included in each folio an articulated print (shikake-e) based upon one of the designs in the series. Several sections of the design were cut and shaped, and they were sewn together at joints. One section of the print was attached to a paper tab, which protruded from the edge of the print. When pulled, the tab enabled a viewer to manipulate the print like a paper puppet.

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