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Who Were the Audiences for "Shunga?"

Monta Hayakawa and C. Andrew Gerstle
Japan Review
No. 26, Shunga: Sex and Humor in Japanese Art and Literature (2013), pp. 17-36
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41959815
Page Count: 20
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Who Were the Audiences for "Shunga?"
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Abstract

The image today of works that depict sex explicitly is that they are the sole playthings of lascivious men. However, in this article I examine a wide range of sources and conclude that in the Edo period it was not only men who appreciated shunga, but that women were also customers. Further, there clearly was interest in shunga from the young and old, regardless of status or location, and included commoners in the cities, farmers, as well as first-class intellectuals and powerful daimyos. The sources clearly show the wide range of interest in shunga in the period. We can also see that shunga was not simply for stimulating sexual desire, but aimed to depict a wide range of aspects of sexuality. In particular, popular ukiyo-e shunga was widely available through the extensive network system of itinerant lending-libraries (kashihonya). Booklenders would carry new and reprinted shunga books and travel from house to house, and lend them for a relatively inexpensive fee. They were known to always have the most up-to-date shunga books and print series, in response to customer demand. It is thought that in most cases it was the women of the house who received the orders from these book-lenders, as they did for other deliveries, and therefore, we can imagine with confidence that shunga works often first passed through women's hands.

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