Stephen Salel. The Ephemerality of Gender: Nanshoku and Wakashū in Japanese Erotic Art
Twenty years after the Japanese government’s decision to permit commercial publication of fully nude figurative imagery sparked the so-called ‘shunga boom’, current and upcoming exhibitions at such venues as the British Museum and the Honolulu Museum of Art indicate that public interest in early modern Japanese erotic art still shows little sign of waning. The art-historical discourse on Japanese erotica in these past two decades, however, has mainly been limited to an acknowledgement that the genre was extremely popular during the Edo period (1615-1868) and that many of the most celebrated artists produced ribald paintings, prints and poetry. A thorough examination of the sexual mores of early modern Japanese society as revealed by such artwork has yet to be undertaken. The first of three exhibitions at the Honolulu Museum of Art focusing on Japanese erotic art, ‘The Arts of the Bedchamber: Japanese Shunga’ examines the sexual culture of Japan during the 17th and early 18th centuries.