日本語版はこちらThe Decline of Shunga
In 1872, as part of Japan’s Civilization and Enlightenment Movement (bunmei kaika), the Tokyo municipal government issued the Ordinance Relating to Public Morals (Ishiki kaii jorei), which banned the sale or consumption of sexually explicit art, and over the following forty years, prosecutors throughout the country suppressed artwork that they deemed obscene with ever-increasing fervor.
Accompanying this legislation were changes in the public’s taste. Works of shunga (sexually explicit woodblock prints and paintings) lost their popularity not only because such subject matter had been declared illegal. The genre was further eclipsed by novel alternatives in media, such as photography, and new approaches to figure painting inspired by European academic art. Perhaps the most influential factor in the decline of shunga, however, was the emerging concept of “fine art” (bijutsu) as a symbol of cultural sophistication. Needless to say, those who introduced the term “fine art” to Japan, such as Ernest Fenollosa (1846–1908), William Bigelow (1850–1926), and their Japanese colleagues, did not deem depictions of explicit sexuality suitable for a modern nation emerging onto the international stage. Eventually, even erotic works by such eminent print designers as Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806) came to be dismissed by many as antiquated reminders of Japan’s former culture.