Foreigners in Shunga: Exotic Women

While European and Asian merchants were frequently visible in Nagasaki, until the late 19th century, female foreign residents were largely invisible if not entirely absent in Japan. Accordingly, depictions of foreign women in shunga and non-explicit Japanese art were particularly fanciful. When describing Chinese women, many Japanese artists referred to imported images of Daoist immortals such as Xiwangmu (Japanese: Seiōbo), Queen Mother of the West. Similarly, images of European women were likely limited to nudes and other idealized images in copper engravings. Although many patriarchic cultures throughout the world have fantasized about a distant, exotic land populated entirely by women, to the people of early modern Japan, the existence of women in other parts of the world was a reality they could only imagine.