Shunga – Latest exhibition at the British Museum

Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art


On Monday I met up with Elysia Womersley after my first ever job interview! – I did well, I got the job I found out on Tuesday and start next week 🙂 . Anyhoot, Elysia and I went off to see the latest exhibition at The British Museum.


Spring Colours: First Cry of the Warbler on the Plum, or Spring Passions: First Cries of Six Women, 1842

Spring Colours: First Cry of the Warbler on the Plum, or Spring Passions: First Cries of Six Women, 1842

In early modern Japan, thousands of sexually explicit paintings, prints, and illustrated books with texts were produced, euphemistically called ‘spring pictures’ (shunga). Official life in this period was governed by strict Confucian laws, but private life was less controlled in practice.

Frequently tender, funny and beautiful, shunga were mostly done within the popular school known as ‘pictures of the floating world’ (ukiyo-e), by celebrated artists such as Utamaro and Hokusai. Early modern Japan was certainly not a sex-paradise; however, the values promoted in shunga are generally positive towards sexual pleasure for all participants.

In this exhibition there are 170 images on display and it is certainly not for the prudish people out there. The nature of this erotic art means that this exhibition is strictly off-limits to the under-16s – however I did notice a toddler wondering about.

Flourishing between the 17th and 19th centuries, the art form celebrated joyful coupling in all its forms, acting as a handbook for good sex.

In Japanese culture,  apparently there was little sense of sin or guilt attached to sex. This was material newly-weds could buy or husbands could give their wives. Or even books ordinary people could borrow.

Moreover, these pictures were widely available to both men and women and to all sections of society, from samurai to servant. Exquisitely wrought scrolls would be bought by the elite, while cheaper prints were available to the poor via travelling libraries.

As one 17th-century writer put it: ‘Sex is essential to give pleasure to one’s heart.’

Perhaps one of the most interesting pieces was this postcard below. Seems like a normal postcard of a landscape however hold it up to a light source and Tada! Naughty postcard! I took some pictures before I was told “Photographs were not permitted” – I know naughty me but the books are far too pricey for my wallet!  As I walked about this  intriguing exhibition I did see a set of wooden dildos.. all my mind could think of was splinters! Its okay if you have a little giggle. Everyone had a little school girl moment in this exhibition >.<

Anyway, if you have some pounds to spare then I would certainly recommend a visit to this exhibition!


3 responses to “Shunga – Latest exhibition at the British Museum

  1. I wish I was still living Uk to see this. I love Japanese artwork…Well to be honest I love Japanese anything, and to be mixed with the subject of sex I think is well placed. Thank you for your post 🙂

  2. Pingback: Le Shunga et le savoir-sembler-sentir « montaigbakhtinian·

  3. Pingback: On Shunga and learning how to feel what when « montaigbakhtinian·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s