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The British Museum
Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, United Kingdom
October 3, 2013 - January 5, 2014

Want to talk about Japanese schlong?
by Philippa Snow , Charlotte Jansen

On Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 10:00 AM, Charlotte Jansen c********** wrote:

Subject: Willies

Want to talk about Japanese schlong?

On Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 10:11 AM,

Philippa Snow <p*********> wrote:

Re: Willies

Honestly, I'm shellshocked -- the shell in question, presumably, being some kind of hyper-vaginal conch, with a too-large and gnarled hermit crab attempting to squeeze his way in. I'll say it: the Shunga show made me long for the tender embrace of hardcore pornography. Never have I seen genitals rendered with such…elasticity. The horror! The horror!

On Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 10:22 AM,

Charlotte Jansen c********** wrote:

And there I was thinking that nothing was able to shock you anymore.

On Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 12:04 PM, Philippa Snow <p*********> wrote:

Re: Dismayed at Dong

In all honesty, I'd thought the same - conversely, though, it ceased to be shocking after about the tenth piece (no euphemism there, I don't think), after which it just sort of rolled over me like an ocean of comic obscenity. Did you find anything about it erotic, in all honesty?

(I actually photographed the caption text from the famous and tender scene between the woman and the octopus and sent it to my partner - just to get things going. I have it here on my phone, if you're interested in a transcript.)

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III, 1786–1864), Genji goshu- yojo (Lasting Impressions of a Late Genji Collection), c.1857–61, From a series of seventy-seven large-size prints, colour woodblock; © The Trustees of the British Museum.


On Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 10:40 AM,

Charlotte Jansen c********** wrote:

Re: Virtuous Vulva

Of course part of the fun of it was the comic aspect, but then isn't sex often slightly humourous, when looked at from afar? But it was definitely a turn-on too. I went with two girl friends, and we were all quite aroused afterwards. It was also quite fun following couples around the show. 

I think the show really brought that funny side of Shunga to the fore. 

One of my favourite stories was "Library of Womanly Virtue for the Vulva" with "Tales of the Pussy in the Palace At Night" in close second place. Another example of the mocking humour of Shunga was the illustrated book of Kabuki theatre actors' penises, with their various appendages framed by pubic hairstyles drawn to represent their actual head, with a small cameo drawing of each owners face relegated to the corner of the page. Imagine if they were to do one of those for the cast of the RSC.

On Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 10:40 AM,

Charlotte Jansen c********** wrote:

Re: Transcript

Please send.

On Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 12:04 PM, Philippa Snow <p*********> wrote:

Re: Octoplus

Predictably, given my predilection for all things horror, I rather liked the ones which depicted sex with ghosts; here's that octopus transcript, since you're eager to read it:

Octopus: Wondering when, when to do the abduction, but today is the day. At last, she's captured. Even so, this is a plump, good pussy.

Diver: The hateful octopus fu, fu, fu…rather, aa, aa, sucking on the surface of the inner mouth of my mob until I'm breathless, aa, ee, I'm coming!

Octopus: Zuu, zuuu, zuu, zuu, zuuu, zuuu, hicha-hicha, gucha-gucha, jutsu, chu, chu, chu, guu, guu, zuu, zuu…

"Gucha-gucha" indeed. Warms your, uh, cockles, doesn't it?

I will say that it's interesting how sex-positive, on the whole, the drawings are - it's actually quite refreshing in that regard. And very casual with sexual orientations, too, which I liked. Perhaps I wasn't in the right frame of mind to find it sexy when I saw it - I did like the suggestion that sex was good for "the happiness of the heart." Rather a nice way of looking at it, don'tchafink? 

On Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 12:08 PM,

Charlotte Jansen c********** wrote:

Re: Didactic Dong

Very nice. And how did T react to that textual serenade? 

I think there's something brilliant in that total equality depicted and upheld in the drawings; between genders, social classes, sexual orientation, metaphysical status...

If we were to compare these works to the way sex is depicted in art now you realise how much less equal we are now, and so in this sense I also think the exhibition is subtly subversive, not because it's portraying sexually explicit material but because it implicitly criticises our attitude to sex now, as well as sex in art...

On 8 Nov 2013, at 12:58, Philippa Snow <p********> wrote:

Re: Ineffective cephalopod seduction

Yes: there's a real emphasis on mutual pleasure and inclusivity which is absent from most modern explicit material. And the women in the paintings have their own demands - there's a power struggle between the sexes at times, for sure, but there isn't a certain winner.

I liked the image of the elderly man and the young woman about to commence their tryst; the old man pointing to himself in disbelief ("Me? Really?") as if he can't quite believe his luck. No Hefner-esque sense that he's entitled to her, by virtue of being male.

I've just been informed that T "has yet to respond to your message, because the screen on my phone is too small to read the text. Just keeping you informed." There but for the grace of God goes he.

On 8 Nov 2013, at 1:30, Charlotte Jansen c********** wrote:

Re: Erogenous Kimono

I think the show is really successful in highlighting the different culture attitudes to sex, but it also shows how incredibly prescient Japanese art was during the Edo period, the colours and compositions still look so fresh, some of them were produced 400 years ago, which is astonishing. The kimono patterns in particular were so striking, especially in Utamaro's works, with their saucy flashes of bottom - apparently since people were so habitually naked in the public baths and such during that time, being partially clothed was more erotic. 

Didn't you find the use of text a delight too in these works? I wonder what they'd have been like without the narratives documenting the couples conversations and exclamations, or those incredible epic titles. The 'pillow poems' have remained a vital element it seems, in the way we are able to interpret these works looking at them now.

On 8 Nov 2013 at 1:32, Charlotte Jansen c********** wrote:

Re: Octopus Sex

Aside: would you ever do this?

Once I read a French erotic novel called Lobster in which a woman and a crustacean get it on on a sinking ship. It left an impression/scarred me for life. 

On 8 Nov 2013 at 2:14, Pippa Snow <p********> wrote:

Re: re: Erogenous Kimono

It's interesting, though, because one would think that nudity - bona fide sexualised nudity - is incredibly commonplace today; the partially-clothed body remains more erotic, somehow, but for the opposite reason. Where the naked body had an everyday connotation of wholesome "naturalness," or something workaday, the constant proliferation of the totally sexed-up naked body means that full nudity is equally tedious now. There were some drawings, in particular, where you would glimpse the subject's undergarments, which in themselves were quite unadorned, in white or in red. The unexpected flash of these was more daring than one might imagine. 

Kitagawa Utamaro, Lovers in the upstairs room of a teahouse, from Utamakura (Poem of the Pillow), 1788, Sheet from a colour-woodblock printed album; © The Trustees of the British Museum.


On 8 Nov 2013 at 2:25, Pippa Snow <p********>  wrote:

Re: re: Octopus Sex

The thing is - sex itself would be somewhat eerie without any degree of communication, so that's what makes the captioning and the dialogue so interesting, I think. The wordless segues into a sexual transaction in pornography are quite different from the scenes depicted here. 

I do also like the idea that these works were designed as a sort of instruction manual for the uninitiated bride. Quite the eye-opener, especially given the scale. 

Regarding the octopus: I believe that if caught in some kind of sexless desert-island situation, I might rather go for some kind of inanimate object. Still, when faced with the hypothetical prospect of, say, a laddish Danny Dyer type, or a Jeremy Clarkson - my eight-legged suitor suddenly seems to have his charms... 

On 8 Nov 2013 at 3:20, Charlotte Jansen c********** wrote:

Actually, I’m going to see the Hokusai show at the Old Truman Brewery at the end of the week, if you want to come ;)


Philippa Snow , Charlotte Jansen 



[Image on top: Nishikawa Sukenobu, Sexual dalliance between a man and geisha, c. 1711–1716, Hand-coloured woodblock print; © The Trustees of the British Museum.]

Posted by Philippa Snow , Charlotte Jansen on 11/14/13 | tags: erotic sex Japan woodblock-prints Japanese woodblock printing shunga

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