But SHUNGA, as it is more commonly known, is actually a word for Japanese works of
art, specifically Japanese erotic paintings that were made from the 16th to 18th
centuries, by reputable painters of the Ukiyo-e (floating world) period.
At the time purists of Japanese culture looked down upon SHUNGA art. While artists
thoroughly enjoyed painting erotica, they rarely signed their works, preferring instead to
remain anonymous and not harm their careers as more serious, classical artists.
While some SHUNGA canvases or prints (paintings on wood blocks) depicted sensual
scenes of couples in love, others were intensely pornographic, revealing carnal love in
all its splendour.
Artists exposed the human anatomy in full detail, without any concern for discretion or
modesty. However these works were always made with care and in good taste.
Some business minds of the time, who understood the market value of visual stimuli
would hire artists to paint SHUNGA art full time. They would unveil the works in a
hall, where middle-class citizens could come, stare and fantasize-all in exchange for a
couple yen. In a way this marked the beginning of the pornography industry as we
know it today.
Often printed as tiny booklets called "pillow books", SHUNGA art also served as
teaching guides for the sons and daughters of the Japanes bougeoisie. From the
paintings they learned the art of foreplay, sexual positioning, and proper hygiene.
To this day, SHUNGA remains one of the hidden treasures of traditional Japanese art.