- Museum number
Object: Ka: Namako no wa, rin no tama, shō-gata 夏: 海鼠の輪, 琳の玉, せうがた (Summer: Sea-cucumber Ring, Jewel Balls, Small Dildo)
Series: Keichū nyo’etsu warai-dōgu 閨中女悦笑道具 (Sex Toys for Women’s Pleasure in the Bedroom)
Colour woodblock print, koban-format, one of a set of four. Sex toys of the four seasons.
- Production date
Height: 9 centimetres
Width: 12.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
‘Laughter devices’ (warai do-gu) of the title means sex toys. This set of small prints is a catalogue of sex toys for women’s pleasure. They are divided into the four seasons, just like the classification of a classical poetry anthology. And ever mindful of their educational purpose, they give additional advice on the number of times to have sex in each of the seasons in order to stay in good health. There was a traditional saying about the frequency for sex: ‘spring three, summer six, autumn one, winter none’. This meant once every three days in spring, once every six days in summer, once every day in autumn (here it says ‘autumn two’) and not at all in winter. But these pictures say that ‘spring three’ means ‘limit sex to three times’ and ‘summer six’ means ‘limit to six times’. Have they made a mistake? Or are they deliberately trying to make us laugh by writing ‘three times a day’? The picture for spring shows a ‘helmet’ (kabuto-gata) worn over the glans of the penis and ‘armour’ (yoroi-gata) worn around the shaft. Summer shows a ring of sea-cucumber (namako) worn on the penis to make the glans swell bigger, ‘revolving jewels’ (rin no tama) to be placed inside the vagina and a small-sized dildo to be used by virgins. Autumn introduces a leather condom (kawa-gata), described using the foreign word ‘ryurusakku’ (lul zak in Dutch means ‘penis bag’). A device called the ‘jealousy ring’ (rinki no wa), a chastity device for men, is also explained. It was placed around the flaccid penis and matted into the pubic hair. If the man got an erection in front of another woman then he suffered unbearable pain. Since winter was the season for abstaining from sex, the picture shows a large dildo to be used instead. All of the pictures show devices invented for women. [TY]
A different impression of the same set is reproduced with commentary in Kato Mitsuo 加藤光男, Edo no sei-ai gaku 江戸の性愛学 (Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 2012), pp. 97-102.
A date of ca. 1822 is given in Shirakura Yoshihiko, E-iri shunga ehon mokuroku (Heibonsha, 2007), p. 132.
Four small prints (2012,3051.1-4) depict sex toys to be worn by both men and women in each of the four seasons, to increase the woman’s pleasure during lovemaking. Comic texts describe the toys and give advice, including pseudo-medical advice, on how and when they should be used. Eisen was a prolific author and artist of shunpon (erotic books) and several of these, notably Makura bunko (Pillow Library) of 1822-32, show the same pseudo-medical interest in sexology.
One of the consistent features of Japanese shunga is the concern to give pleasure during love-making and there were in fact special sellers of sex toys and sex medications in the later Edo period (1600-1868). In the BM collections there is a set of actual tortoiseshell sex toys (1928,0609.1, 1-9) that seem to date from the late 19th century and resemble the ones depicted here.
(T. Clark, Feb. 2013)
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2013 3 Oct - 2014 5 Jan, London, BM, Shunga: Sex and pleasure in Japanese art, 1600-1900
- Acquisition date
- Registration number