Japanese Erotic Art: Shunga Paintings That Represent Japan Intrinsically

Famous Japanese Erotic art painting

Evocative artforms always outshine conventional art. It’s an established fact along with plenty of proofs from the history of paintings

From emotional artforms to politically agitated art movements, most of them have played significant roles in the evolution of art with time. 

However, erotic paintings and sensual art have always been closer to the human perspective since ages. It is one of the most inclusive artforms in the world due to its uncommon depiction of sexual scenarios. 

Japanese erotic art falls under the umbrella of most popular sensual artforms across the globe. Popularly known as Shunga, this artform is an epitome of expression in countries like China, Japan and Korea. 

Actual Japanese Shunga Meaning

A famous Shunga Painting.

Shunga erotic paintings mark their origin from the roots of the Edo period. Dating back to the early 17th century, these Japanese sexual artworks consisted of bizarre portrayals of sensual scenes in a very peculiar way. 

The word Shunga actually refers to spring in Japanese. Spring is a symbol of sex in Japan. With widespread popularity in neighboring countries, Shunga paintings were known for immaculate detailing as well. 

On a larger note, these erotic paintings were influenced by Chinese medical manuals which used to have unique and uneven portrayal of human genitals. 

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Significance of Shunga paintings in Japanese Culture

Paintings are usually meant to beautify the interiors of your house. However, Japanese old paintings and Shunga paintings had a very significant role to play in Japanese culture. 

Apart from elevating the décor, Shunga paintings were a popular choice as a gift for the newlyweds. These paintings had in detail depictions of sexual positions, so they were meant to act as a guiding light for maiden couples. 

Japanese erotic art was significant in the country’s cultural development. Their existence in the Edo period turned out to be economically significant. 

Another feature of Shunga paintings is derived from various folklores of samurais. These paintings embraced the spirit within the warriors and motivated them to fight for protecting their homes.

Timeline of Shunga Paintings

Famous Japanese Erotic art.

Commencing their origin from the early 17th century, Shunga paintings became a popular form of sensual expression in Japanese culture. Depiction of some unimaginable pleasures was something that increased the popularity of Shunga paintings rapidly. 

These Japanese erotic paintings were mostly created by artists from the Edo period. They portrayed “pleasures of life” in the form of these erotic paintings. 

However, a few Shunga paintings were produced by members of Kano school. These artists were famous for the elements of secularism in their innovative paintings. 

After a century of vogue, Japanese erotic paintings were prohibited by the Shogunate of Japan in 1722. The reason behind it was the bizarreness of these paintings. However, the production of these paintings continued illegally. 

In the late 19th century, another prohibition was imposed on these erotic paintings. This incident isolated these paintings from the Japanese diaspora on such a scale that it became a taboo in Japan. 

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6 Famous Japanese Erotic Paintings

Now we are well acquainted with the backdrop of Shunga art and its attributes in Japanese culture. Let’s dive a bit deeper and get a glimpse of some famous Japanese erotic paintings. 

1. The Dream of The Fisherman’s Wife

The Dream of The Fisherman's Wife painting.

Probably one of the most bizarre paintings ever produced, The Dream of the Fisherman’s wife is a depiction of an insanely sexual dream. It embodies elements of lust and desire at par. 

The visuals contain a woman getting aroused by two octopuses. One is painted kissing her on the lips and the other one is performing a cunnilingus on her. 

There is some text written in the background which depicts the sexual desires and feelings of the woman. It seems like she’s lost in this moment completely. 

This Japanese erotic art painting is a statement about the fisherman not being able to satisfy her wife in sexual terms; Leading to her creative and adventurous sexual desires. 

Also Read: Famous Paintings Of Women 

2. Summer Breeze

Summer breeze as a Japanese erotic art.

Produced by one of the most popular Shunga painters Chobunsai Eishi, Summer Breeze is another Japanese erotic art  painting depicting intimacy between a couple. 

The visulas of this painting include a male subject stimulating the vaginal region of the female in order to arouse her. The title suggests the season in which they are. 

The facial expressions of both the subjects showcase the level of satisfaction they are getting from this sensual experience. Specifically, the woman seems to be on cloud 9 while receiving sensual stimulation from her partner.

3. At The Tea Drinking 

At The Tea Drinking, a famous Japanese erotic art.

This painting portrays a sensual kissing scene between a couple while having tea. Kissing is something that can take place anywhere and anytime between a couple. 

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However, this fact does not align with this artwork. Tea drinking is a formal ceremony in Japan. And the background also suggests the same. 

Sharing a passionate kiss is not very common while having tea in Japan. The artist’s thought provoking scheme behind creating this scenario was to convey about the boundless nature of human urge. 

Sharing a moment of passion amidst a formal ceremony; a thought that could only be applicable in Japanese erotic art.

4. Warrior Making Love To Woman

 Warrior Making Love To Woman as a Japanese erotic art.

A painting that was enacted as a symbol of luck for samurai warriors, this Japanese erotic art painting is exemplary for its color scheme and brush strokes. 

A warrior with vibrantly painted armor can be seen making love to a woman who’s lying beside him. Apart from having some tacky colors, the sexual aspect of this painting still remains intact and clearly visible. 

These kinds of erotic paintings were carried by samurais as a symbol of luck whenever they proceeded towards a battle.

5. Lovers With A Landscape Of Atago Behind

Lovers With A Landscape Of Atago Behind painting.

It’s one of the few Japanese erotic art paintings which had an “Atago” landscape in the background. Although “Atago” was a very popular décor for walls in Japan, its inclusion in erotic paintings is something unusual. 

The male subject in this painting can be seen holding a candle while the female is trying to arouse him with some poses. 

This erotic painting gives evidence about the importance and inclusion of sexual desires in traditional Japanese art. 

Apart from the theme, the brushstrokes and painting techniques inculcated in this painting are equally applaudable. 

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6. Shunga Depicting A Courtesan and Her Client in Bed Quilts

A very famous Shunga painting.

Probably one of the most controversial paintings of the Shunga era, this artwork depicts a scene from a Japanese brothel. 

A courtesan is lying on the bed with her client while he’s preparing for the sexual encounter. Both the subjects can be seen canoodling each other. 

The woman is dressed in a traditional Kimono and the man is seen removing it slowly in order to fulfill his fantasies. 

Apart from the detailed depiction of the elements, the artists focus on highlighting the private part of the subjects is immaculate.


Art is a tool to embrace the beauty of nature. Nature is embedded in each one of us!

Shunga paintings give a testament on how to embrace the human body and its desires. 

Being an integral part of the community, these paintings exemplify the openness of the ancient Japanese culture proudly. 

Known for bestowing different emotions with a common central theme, Japanese erotic art has inspired many households with its legacy. 

Despite being a taboo in the present day, some of the famous paintings still elevate the Japanese art galleries beautifully. 

Artworks like these are meant to connect with every significant person of the society. 

Authors Note:

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I thank you all for staying till here and consuming my blog about Japanese Erotic Art!

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1. Which type of households generally kept Shunga paintings?

These paintings were a symbol of prosperity. So generally rich and upper class households kept these kind of paintings in their home.

2. What is the significance of Shunga paintings for warrior class of Japan?

Warriors saw Shunga paintings as a symbol of luck. Especially, Warrior making love to woman painting is a dedicated symbol of luck for ancient Japanese warriors.

3. What does Shunga represent apart from the sexuality?

Shunga depicts the openness of intrinsic Japanese culture. It shows about the normalization of nudity in ancient Japan.

4. What is the literal meaning of Shunga?

In a literal sense, Shunga refers to the picture of a spring. Spring is a common emblem of sex in Japan.

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