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Kabuki Shunga. “Sagi Musume” or The Heron Maiden is a famous dance performance in Japanese Kabuki theatre. This shunga print is my imagination playing with alternative narrative. Created in January 2017 as a part of an ongoing series inspired by Kabuki plays.


Kabuki Shunga is a match made in heaven. To be honest I am surprised at myself for not seriously pursuing this avenue of erotic narrative earlier. Perhaps it was my 16 years as a tattooer of traditional Japanese designs that kept me from seeing the obvious, limiting my perception and sensitivity. Kabuki theatre has always been closely linked to the erotic aspects of the floating world of Edo period japan, beginning with the dance performances of Izumi no Okuni in the early 1600’s and slowly evolving into later centuries all male ensembles with its female impersonators, Onnagata, and all the possibilities and implications that follows in the wake of Kabuki’s colorfulness, bravado and all together almost surreal dramatic costume.

In Edo and its Yoshiwara red light district, with all the carnal temptations and pleasures such a place presented and fulfilled, sex was at its center and Kabuki evolved in the midst of all this. Actors were sometimes available as prostitutes or escorts as well. Dreams and fantasies arising, pursued and satisfied. No wonder my mind appears feverishly delirious at the prospects of diving headlong into Kabuki’s historically sinful depths.

Kabuki theatres were of course not only inspiration for passion, pleasures and sexual desires, but also the birthplaces of a beautifully developed style of drama and dance performances unique in all its splendor and soulfulness. On my first visit to Japan I had the pleasure of visiting the classic Kabuki-za theatre and was forever charmed by the experience, even to the point of subjecting my children at an early age to watch Kabuki on DVD without any subtitles. To my delight they enjoyed the experience and clearly understood plots and characters without much prior knowledge. In the present, as teenagers, they watch completely different things on YouTube, but I hope that they will eventually stumble into some Kabuki once in a while.

For writings on Kabuki and my erotic art please go here. For more on the way my mind works and why I paint Shunga go here

For a quick guide to what Kabuki can be I hope you enjoy this video:

As for myself, I will now enter the Kabuki theatre in a most serious fashion and most likely never leave. Kabuki shunga will be a main them in my art for many years to come.

/ Senju