My housemate Ayano just returned from Tokyo and she brought back a beautiful book of Shunga from the Edo period. Gorgeous!!
For those unfamiliar with Shunga, this is from Wikipedia:
It is thought that shunga were initially inspired by illustrations in Chinese medical manuals, a process which had its origins in the Muromachi era (1336 to 1573). Chou Fang, the great T'ang Dynasty Chinese erotic painter, is thought to also have been influential. He, like many erotic artists of his time and place, tended to exaggerate the size of the genital organs, a common shunga topos.
The style was popular through the Edo period (1603 to 1867) despite occasional governmental attempts to suppress them, the first of which was a ban on erotic books known as kōshokubon (好色本, kōshokubon) issued by the Tokugawa shogunate in Kyōhō 7 (1722). Shunga finally succumbed to the introduction of erotic photographs at the beginning of the Meiji era (1868—1912).
Shunga were produced between the sixteenth century and the nineteenth century by ukiyo-e artists, since they sold more easily and at a higher price than their ordinary work. Shunga prints were produced and sold either as single sheets or - more frequently - in book form, called enpon. Shunga was also produced in hand scroll format, called kakemono-e (掛け物絵). This format was also popular, though more expensive as the scrolls had to be individually painted.
The quality of shunga art varies, and few ukiyo-e painters remained aloof from the genre. Experienced artists found it to their advantage to concentrate on their production. This led to the appearance of shunga by first rate artists. Ukiyo-e artists owed a stable livelihood to such customs, and it appears that producing a piece of shunga for a high-ranking client brought them enough money to live on for about six months.
Most ukiyo-e shunga prints were produced in Edo. Rarely, they were produced in Osaka or Kyoto. The coloration of those prints is richer, and matte, in comparison with Edo works. This effect came from the use of gofun, powdered white clamshell, which was mixed into pigments used in multicolored prints in Osaka and Kyoto.
Shunga artists rarely signed their works, even though the genre was generally accepted and the art met the same standards required of more conventional styles. This was in order to eliminate any danger of governmental prosecution, or any risk of "losing face" and thus endangering the other aspects of an artist's career.
Brides of daimyo and hatamoto often brought a waraie (erotic picture) series of twelve pictures together with their wedding furniture. Also, daimyo and hatamoto were accustomed to place a roll of shunga in the helmet box when they commissioned a suit of armor. In these cases, shunga reflected people's wishes for the eternal happiness of princes and princesses.
Besides its traditional use, shunga served as sexual guidance for the sons and daughters of wealthy families (usually named Zeng). (after Engyo Mitamura, Makurae for Festivities)