Every time there is some sort of tragedy, natural or otherwise, politicians and social commentators are quick to point the blame at some sort of moral failure of our society. In the immediate aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, then Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara described the destruction as “divine punishment” for Japanese moral failures. In 1989, the media was quick to blame the influence of pornography, horror films and anime for the grisly murders of 4 young girls by Tsutomo Miyazaki, dubbed the “Otaku murderer.” Each successive generation seems to believe we are backsliding into ever deeper moral depravity, but to quote the Talking Heads, things now are “same as it ever was.” Want proof?

harry
Shunga is a type of erotic art that was popular in Japan in the Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868–1912) periods. Typically these were created using the popular woodblock printing method known as ukiyo-e. Although erotic ukiyo-e is not nearly as well known as some of the more iconic images such as Hokusai’s waves or Hiroshige’s sweeping landscapes, they were immensely popular at the time, by both men and women of all social classes, including samurai, merchants and peasants, and shunga prints were created by nearly all ukiyo-e artists.

It is not all that surprising that people in Japan enjoyed eroticism and pornography hundreds of years ago, but what might come as a surprise is the enormous variety of themes. Lesbian orgies, masturbation, sex toys, oral and anal sex, interracial trysts, bondage, rape fantasies and even pedophilia and bestiality. Tentacle porn? Sure – there is a historical precedent. But don’t just take my word for it. Here are some images that might be shocking even to modern sensibilities.

Orgies (Harem)
orgy Multiple partners is a common theme in shunga prints. In fact, really the only rare thing about this piece is the lack of clothing. Due to the fact that men and women often shared public bathing spaces, the naked body in and of itself was not seen as particularly erotic. In fact most shunga depicts the characters with their clothes on as the clothing conveys subtle clues about the character’s social rank or occupation, which help build a narrative. Also, clothing helps to draw the eye to the focal point of the drawing, which is another way of saying the genitals.

A tryst with a young lover
Miyagawa_Isshô-Spring_Pastimes-F This one does not seem all that shocking, until you realize that the lover is a child – it was not uncommon for samurai and even priests to take young boys as lovers in ancient times. Such stories can even be found in the Tales of the Genji – one of the oldest known literary works in Japan.

MILFs
nursing Nursing a baby while having sex – talk about multi-tasking!

Mature MILFs and Cosplay
child I am not sure who he thinks he is fooling. Even wearing a shishi dragon mask, that boy is clearly old enough to know what is going on. Or he is not, which would make the scene all the more terrifying by wearing a dragon costume.

Sex Toys (Strap-on)
_360_2 I have to admit, I am curious. Before the advent of plastic and commercial rubber production, just what were these made of? I guess Japan was world renowned for their lacquer ware…

It bears mentioning that before interaction with modern Western societies, many aspects of Japanese sexuality, such as sexual preferences or the age of consent were much more fluid (pardon the pun) than they are now. Sexuality become gradually more codified and rigid (pardon this pun as well) with increased interaction with the West.

Voyeur (Peeping Tom)
kitagawa-utamaro-1753-1806-jap-un-volume-shunga-ehon-en-coule-3769658 What is more exciting than watching a girl pee? Watching a guy watch a girl pee. Obviously. Maybe she is changing, or doing kegel exercises, or preparing for childbirth – no matter what she is doing, the man surreptitiously watching with his johnson exposed makes this is voyeur porn.

BL?
men
BL, or “boy’s love” is a genre of pornographic comic books aimed at predominately female readers. It is distinct from gay pornography both because the intended audience is usually women, and because the characters themselves are often heterosexual. The excitement is derived from the taboo of two heterosexual males falling into homoerotic situations. It isn’t clear if this is a precursor or not, but the crying woman in the corner is a good sign that somebody in this scene is not entirely out of the closet.

Maturbation
p350--reading-a-shunga-book-10048 Really the difference between “erotic art” and pornography comes down to intention on both the part of the creator and the consumer. This piece settles the matter in one fell swoop – the woman in the piece is masturbating…TO A BOOK OF SHUNGA! This shows not only that customers bought the art with that purpose in mind, but that the creators themselves were fully aware of that fact as well. Case closed.

Gay and interracial!
interracial
This image depicts a Japanese soldier sodomizing a Russian soldier. This image was created at the time of the Russo-Japanese war, so there may be a bit of symbolism here as well. Give it to ’em Japan!

Bestiality (Zoophilia)
dog
While not common, bestiality was an occasional theme in some shunga pieces. It is hard to determine what the reaction might have been at that time in Japanese society, but family pets did play less of a role in Japanese families than they do today.

And now for your daily dose of WTF – these are some images that defy simple classification.
The precursor to tentacle porn. You wondered why all those anime videos feature women being attacked by tentacled monsters – perhaps they were informed by images like this.
squid

vages This image is probably not intended to be erotic so much as informative. Shunga were often used by mothers to explain sexuality to their daughters, or even daughters-in-law before their wedding night. There was no stigma about women buying and owning such art in Edo era Japan. This could be an early attempt at sex education.

top Rule number 34 of the internet – “if you can think of it, there is a porno version of it somewhere on the internet. No exceptions.” I mention this rule because, although I have no idea what one might call a flatulence fetish, there surely must be a name and whole websites dedicated to it. You do the footwork yourself if you are curious.

and for your number one WTF of the day…
headswap I don’t even know where to begin with this one, other than to say that often in shunga, the genitals were referred to as “the second face” – which is why they were often enlarged and somewhat grotesque. Perhaps this was meant to show that they should be considered the first face, since that is where everyone is looking anyway.

Believe it or not there were actually many images that were too distasteful to republish here. Some involving animals, very small children, or just a few more veiny erections than I care to stare at. Should you decided to go exploring deeper into the world of shunga, know that you have been warned.

However if you like what you see and are in the Tokyo area sometime during the next 3 months, you are in luck:
[qem event-‘1976’]