The Phaidon Folio

10 Masterpieces of Japanese Erotica That May Complicate Your Sex Life

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10 Masterpieces of Japanese Erotica That May Complicate Your Sex Life
Scenes of Lovemaking by Sugimura Jihei, mid-1680s

In the Western tradition, the idealized nude and—more explicitly—sex have long been sticking points in artistic discourse across generations—controversial for their beauty on the one hand, and its supposedly sinful nature on the other. In stark contrast, Japanese erotica in paintings and prints have held a ubiquitous position in society, starting with the Heian aristocracy of the ninth century and trickling down to a rising, modern urban middle class. While styles have changed over the centuries, these works are connected by a shared celebration of life's fleeting, earthly pleasures under the term ukiyo-e, or the Floating World.

With Phaidon's compendium Poem of the Pillow and Other Stories guiding our journey, we take a spin around traditional pleasure quarters with these ten arousing artworks of Japanese erotic art.

 

GENJI’S ELEGANT PILLOW (GENJI KYASHA MAKURA)
Hishikawa Moronobu
1676

1

 

SCENES OF LOVEMAKING
Sugimura Jihei
mid-1680s

2

 

EROTIC CONTEST OF FLOWERS
Torii Kiyonobu I
c.1710

3

 

[MOUNTAIN OF DYED COLORS] PATTERNS OF THE BEDROOMS ([SOME IRO NO YAMA] NEYA NO HINAGATA)
Okumura Masanobu
c.1740

4

 

OSEN
Suzuki Harunobu
c.1768

5

 

PROSPEROUS FLOWERS OF THE ELEGANT TWELVE MONTHS (FŪRYŪ JŪNIKI NO EIGA)
Isoda Koryūsai
1772–3

6

 

A TRIO
Kitao Masanobu
c.1782

9

 

THE THREAD OF THE PRESENT-DAY LOVE ENCOUNTERS (IMAYŌ IROKUMI NO ITO)
Katsukawa Shunchō
c.1786

8

  

POEM OF THE PILLOW (UTAMAKURA)
Kitagawa Utamaro
1788  

10

 

PINING FOR LOVE (KINOE NO KOMATSU)
Katsushika Hokusai
1814

10a

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