My painting “The Peony Lantern” (Botan Doro) depicts the ghost of Otsuyu in an erotic midnight embrace with her living lover Shinzaburo.
The Peony Lantern (Botan Doro) is one of my erotic Shunga paintings for October, which centers around the classic ghost stories of Japan. Turning them into erotic works of art is at the same time both easy and difficult. Easy because I often equate the erotic with romantic love (of which the melancholy kind often appears in ghost stories) and hard because that very same romanticism and melancholy prevents me from creating overly explicit tableaus. Death is no laughing matter and the driving force behind intimacy between the departed and the living comes out best when it derives its strength from a longing for remaining, for closeness or the idea that love is what often makes us feel alive. It is perhaps love that makes us in a strange and unexpected way immortal?
The story of “Botan Doro” (the Peony Lantern) is one of my favorite ghost stories. It is terrifying yet sensitive and sweet. The hopelessness of impossible romance and how this is overcome defiance of laws of the universe and finally the consequences for having yourselves assumed the position of gods. The two lovers ultimately pays a costly price for their transgressions but at the same time there is something so very human about their longing for each other.
Here is a brief summary of the Kabuki play based on the story;
“A young student named Shinzaburo falls in love with a beautiful woman named Otsuyu, the daughter of his father’s best friend. They meet secretly, and promise to be married. But Saburo falls ill, and is unable to see Otsuyu for a long time.
Later, when Saburo recovers and goes to see his love, he is told that Otsuyu has died. He prays for her spirit during the Obon festival, and is surprised to hear the approaching footsteps of two women. When he sees them, they look remarkably like Otsuyu and her maid. It is revealed that her aunt, who opposed the marriage, spread the rumor that Otsuyu had died and told Otsuyu in turn that Saburo had died.
The two lovers, reunited, begin their relationship again in secret. Each night Otsuyu, accompanied by her maid who carries a peony lantern, spends the night with Saburo.
This continues blissfully until one night a servant peeks through a hole in the wall in Saburo’s bedroom, and sees him having sex with a decaying skeleton, while another skeleton sits in the doorway holding a peony lantern. He reports this to the local Buddhist priest, who locates the graves of Otsuyu and her maid. Taking Saburo there, he convinces him of the truth, and agrees to help Saburo guard his house against the spirits. The priest places ofuda around the house, and prays the nenbutsu every night.
The plan works, and Otsuyu and her maid are unable to enter, although they come every night and call out their love to Saburo. Pining for his sweetheart, Saburo’s health begins to deteriorate. Saburo’s servants, afraid that he will die from heartbreak leaving them without work, remove the ofuda from the house. Otsuyu enters, and again has sex with Saburo.
In the morning, the servants find Saburo dead, his body entwined with Otsuyu’s skeleton. His face is radiant and blissful.”
For a more in depth overview of the “Botan Doro” you can go deeper here
And here is little something from the actual Kabuki playÖ
I wrote about ghosts and Shunga before in “Seduction” Shunga, ghosts and desperation , Having wet dreams and The Erotic Ghost – danger, desire and seduction.
This erotic ghost painting (Yuurei-zu) by Senju balances between the sensual and melancholy on one hand and the subdued rage in the ghost of a young woman.
Ever since I discovered Yuurei-zu a long time ago I have suffered a strange fascination with the genre. It is not about death, danger, fear or the dark world where the Yuurei dwells. I am not the kind person who easily regards ghosts or even the soul to be something that exists in my reality but somehow the melancholy of the ghosts speak to me. Even when the paintings border on the grotesque the Japanese ghost expresses a sort of desperation. To be seen. To be recognized. To belong. To interact. The suffering of the ghost, sometimes portrayed almost as mental illness, anxiety or just the uncontrollable urge to be something else, somewhere else, just not in their lonesome world of indescribable pain.
Although I do not find the image and idea of the Japanese ghost erotic in the usual sense of the word there is nevertheless something undeniably sensual in the notion of its almost liquid and highly intangible form. Sometimes the Japanese painters of the Edo and Meiji period rendered the ghosts in terrifying bloody images but at other times they captured the fragile and the sorrowfully beautiful in images such as “A ghost before a mosquito net” by Eiho Hirezaki (1881-1968).
“A ghost before a mosquito net” by Eiho Hirezaki.
The erotic ghost.
Why do I even entertain an idea of the erotic ghost? Perhaps it has to do with my own personal idea of closeness, trust and compassion as integral parts of sexual intimacy. As I have discussed on numerous earlier occasions, I feel that there is a divide in between what I would call the idea of sex as it is taught to us by social constructions, culture, religion etc and the wonderfull thing it can be when the layers of distraction and illusion are peeled off. So maybe I feel a romantic attachment to the sadness and melancholy of the ghost and this is what in turn makes it erotic.
Halloween is soon upon us and October 2017 will be a month where I will explore the world of Yuurei-zu. I will study the traditional Japanese ghost stories of the time and try to find inspiration for paintings that will range from the slightly sensual all the way to the explicitly erotic and pornographic. I will most likely leave out blood and gore since imagery containing death, murder, rape, mutilation, or torture has no place in my artistic cosmos. Mine will be the one of the erotic ghost and the sensual specter. There are many characters within the realm of Japanese art and lore that flirt with the erotic side of things. A small amount of these are ghost. Others are perhaps strong female characters that turns into demons and other creatures. it is quite likely that some of these will end up in my catalogue of Yuurei-zu.
While you wait in anticipation for the next ghost painting you can always read “Seduction” Shunga, ghosts and desperation where I talk a little bit about my first Shunga ghost painting.
Since I have spent almost two decades researching Japanese art, history and culture as part of my traditional Japanese tattooing this will be a month of intellectual festivities. The gods know that intellectuality, sensitivity and the artistic scares the shit out of the narrow minded, the hateful, aggressive and violent. They are also quite often deadly afraid when it comes to the idea of freedom of sexuality or simply the idea of compassion and love. No wonder I look forward to it so much.
To find out who I am and why I create what I create you should read “Shunga and how I found my artistic voice (finally).”
My Shunga portrait of the famous Kabuki character “Sukeroku” (from the play with the same name). His cock is very large but this is how male genitalia was portrayed in Edo period Japanese erotic art.
The cock in Shunga
There has always been a great deal of surprise, giggles and astonishment surrounding the size of the male genitalia portrayed in Shunga. I remember that one of the first explanations I heard (more than 20 years ago, before I became interested in Japanese art) was that the average size of Japanese cocks are very small. The sizes the penises are rendered in Shunga was of course making up for the inherent inferiority complex that (still, surprisingly) comes with not being hung like the proverbial horse. Hopefully it goes without saying that cock-size confusion has nothing at all to do with the enormous penises in Shunga. One might think that it would have something to do with male gender domination. That the cock conquers all. Hmmm….that¨s not it either. It is true that the almost comical and at the same time erotic art of Shunga was aimed at a consumer group predominantly male. It is also a fact that it was considered really dirty pornography by Japanese people of Edo period days, but if you still think that cock size was important in the same way men seem to think in today’s wester culture then you are paddling in the wrong direction.
If you study a number of Shunga woodblock prints or paintings and look a bit closer you will probably find that the vaginas are equally oversized. Now, why is that? Was there a vagina-size complex going around as well? Of course not. Japanese art should not be viewed with the same eyes (or mind) used when viewing western art. There are many things central to Japanese traditional prints and paintings but what we call “realism” (and revere so highly) is not one of them. In fact, things like showing depth through light and shadow or portrait likeness was not something the artists strived for. The visual language sings a completely different tune. For example, volume in rendering the lavish Kimono of an Oiran was achieved through using varying weight in lifework. The Japanese artists used ink and brush for drawing and this lent itself to highly expressive lines. A skilled artist had no problem using this technique to breath life into his or hers work.
Likewise, keys to unlock the mystery of who was really who in an artwork was usually achieved by using symbols, objects or by placing the character in a context that was well known to the viewer. This is why all the samurai in Ukiyo-e all look bewilderingly alike when you look at their faces but their armor, clothes and helmets are vividly and painstakingly designed. When seeing Kato Kiyomasa wearing his characteristic helmet whilst fighting a tiger you can immediately tell that whose legendary exploits you are currently viewing.
So why the oversized genitalia? The simple fact is that they formed the center of attention in Shunga design. The genitalia draws your attention and you can go right into it! This form of erotic art was, as said earlier, predominantly aimed at a male audience and mostly used as visual aid when masturbating. The image needed to be easily read as the user flipped the pages of an arousing book. Little time was needed or desired for artistic contemplation. Who stops to admire the artists genius when you are about to orgasm? So now you know.
In “Otokodate” I show a more realistic size cock.
So what about big cocks?
The size of ones cock really seems to matter after all. At least if I would subscribe to the idea of what a man should be when men as a group defines themselves as sexual beings. This seems to really be the one and only thing. That and the ability to dominate and subdue women and perhaps fuck at lightning speed. Hard. Uncompromising. It starts early. Boys measuring themselves against each other in the school locker room. I remember being teased by the other boys even as high up as in high school. Apparently I wasn’t the “stallion” that was expected of me. Not that I really cared, even if it hurt when the the others called me names and pointed. And not that I was “small” either. In hindsight I think it was my glasses, my complete disinterest in sports and my affection for books and knowledge that served as the real “penis” envy.
When I was 15 the boy in our class that sported the longest slack dick in the locker room was of course very good at sports and not so highly achieving in others areas. And there is of course nothing wrong that. I liked the guy and he was nice. The other boys however could not stop talking about this guy and his cock and for some time he was a hero to them. A real man. Like they all wanted to be. It is just sad that we all had unknowingly bought into the patriarchal structure and hierarchy already at such an early age.
The cock in modern pornography
When I grew into a teenager during the late 70’s and early 80’s there was very little pornography to be obtained. It mostly consisted of small magazines that you would never dare to buy yourself. Sometimes when there was newspaper collecting day in my neighbourhood (people threw their old newspapers in a open container that was later collected by a truck) one could climb up during nighttime and rummage for comic books and the like. Sometimes, very much sometimes, we found porn of various kinds. This is where we first saw the erect cocks of men (and the vaginas of women) but I recall that the male “actors” was not very heavily equipped. In fact it ranged in between all sizes and shapes.
The internet pornography of today is dealing much more in stereotyping. It seems to me to have very little to do with sex as it is in real life. If the industry can dictate what sex is it can also dictate our urges and needs. It becomes a self serving entity that I see as destructive. Here cocks are big and men are aggressive fuck machines that use women to satisfy their sexual urges and whims. It is also unfortunately where young boys and men learn what is “real” sex and how they should be in order to fit into the contemporary patriarchal norm. There are also adds placed that tells you that; yes, you’re cock is not big enough and that if you buy some pills not only will your penis grow but so will your sexual capital.
The cock in reality
We all want to be close to others. Preferably very close. That is when humans are at their best I think. Forget football scores, going to the moon, waging wars and driving really fast. Love and compassion is what we are actually made for. Sadly we get tricked into believing otherwise by our parents that were tricked by their parents and so on. In turn they were also fooled by culture, society and tradition that life is a tough bastard so we better be prepared, know what is right and “normal”, fear the unknown and smash it in the head with a great big stick.
At least this is what expected of you if you are a boy or a man. And men really fear not fitting into their group. I would dare to say that “normal” hetero men actually values being liked by other men more than they do being liked by women. And of course, if your penis is inadequate it becomes really dangerous. But what is a adequate cock then? Here we should paus and you can all go and read this very good and scientific information on penis size. Done? Good! How do you feel about your penis now?
In reality we all have very different cocks ranging in-between somewhere 13 and 15 centimeters. In every group of 100 men there will be five that have bigger cocks and also some that are bit smaller sized. The extremes are few and far apart. Love what you have and get to know it really well (unless you haven’t already). It is not a weapon or an instrument of terror. It’s a cock.
The Senju Shunga cocks
When I create my erotic works I have come to have very little preference as to what things should look like. Drawing large cocks are fun as are drawing vaginas. I remain true to the idea of the original shunga most of the time but I also deviate from the path when I see fit to. My original idea was to create erotic or pornographic works of art that can reclaim at least a part of what the porn industry are actively stealing from us in order to make millions of dollars at the same time that they are further solidifying the gender roles that makes up the foundation of what is wrong with our human world.
For further reading on what makes my Shunga read “Shunga and how I found my artistic voice (finally).”
A very analog approach to drawing the winner in the Senju Shunga blog contest.
A very good Sunday morning to all of you and especially the participants in the Senju Shunga original painting contest. I was very pleased and certainly moved by the wonderful comments you left on the post. The words warmed my heart and inspired me to create more art. So a great and warm Thank you to everyone that made an effort and communicated. I hope I can continue to make this blog a place where you feel welcome and choose to return often.
So, who is the winner?
Congratulations Mr. Daniel Binder!
Daniel Binder! Come on down! Congratulations to winning my original painting! Be sure to email your Full name and postal adress and the paining will be on its merry way to you. Thank you for participating and making this a great contest.
I will sit down and answer all your lovely comments during this week.
Handcrafted from Japanese paper the Senju Shunga Deluxe box set contains 21 prints of Your choice.
The idea to create a Senju Shunga boxed set is something that actually popped into my head sometime during spring this year. As most of you probably have figured out by now, my love for everything Japanese know virtually no limit. Creating and crafting a box that would feature a large collection of my limited edition Shunga prints was something so tempting and so inspiring I just had to give it a try. In Umeå , far up north in Sweden, very few things are hard to come by but Japanese paper of different kinds would seem to be such a thing. Fortunately we are blessed with a local, family owned paper store by the name of Sandbergs Pappershandel that stocks all things imaginable and yes of course, beautiful Japanese papers as well.
Since May or so I have cast eyes full of desire on the rolls of wonderful paper just standing there in a basket, but time has proved unobtainable, perhaps also will and inspiration, and I have instead continued to paint for my upcoming book, tattooed and done a thousand other creative things. So, finally, early last week the right moment surfaced and I seized the tiger by its tail.
Now the three first Shunga boxes have been created and I am very pleased with the result. There is something sensual and delicate when it comes to Japanese paper in all its variations and I have a large box full of pieces of Kimono patterned Origami paper in different sizes and colors. I probably have more than enough but I know my resistance to further purchases is practically zero when I see some new designs that will perhaps make my collection more complete.
For the wrapping of the Shunga prints I chose very silky paper with clearly visible fibers and threads.
As some of the collectors of my prints have expressed the desire for something that would be a more complete collection (since I paint daily there will never be a “complete” collection), I have chosen to include 21 Senju Shunga prints in this boxed set. Also I feel it is important that the collector can choose the content themselves, since quite a few have already purchased at least one or two prints already. If a client decides to purchase a box they can simply email me and let me know their desires for that particular box. Also there is a rather large discount when obtaining the Senju Shunga box.
I decided to limit the number of boxes to 13. First and foremost to make them more special. If there were a thousand boxes there would be no reason to make them and very little inclination to purchase and own one. Art should be personal as much as possible. A conversation in-between artist, the work and the viewer. Like sharing a cup of Sake in the company of intimate friends, snuggling up around a table somewhere cosy, while the rain hammer and drenches the street outside the window.
The gold paint is unique to every single Senju Shunga box created. Everything is hand cut, hand folded and designed by myself.
The idea of doing everything myself as far as that is possible is something I learned through playing in punk bands, becoming a self-thaught tattooer and artist and of course by visiting Japan many times. I hope that my humble efforts will be appreciated by you and that you will continue to show interest in my erotic art.
If you are interested in how and why I create my contemporary Shunga please go here
Why a Senju shunga blog contest? As autumn is slowly covering the Swedish north in rain and burning colors of red, orange and yellow I have decided to host the first ever blog contest on SenjuShunga.com. This is part of my effort to get all of my lovely Instagram followers to spend more time interacting with this website. Here I can share my work without the fear of censorship. I can write in depth about my work and the ideas behind it. I can also listen to what you have to say when you comment on what I create and all of you can enjoy my work in so many better ways than on the tiny screen of your phone. Of course, if you use aforementioned phone to visit me, this will work fine too!
This contest is simple. All you have to do is to comment on this post, leaving your name. I will announce the winner both here and on Instagram on the 30th of September after randomly selecting a name by drawing it out of a bowl in the very classical way these things used to be done before the digital.
So what is in it for the winner?
An original painting!
Watercolor, pencil and gold acrylic paint on paper, A3 size. And it can be yours. Let’s brighten up that dreary autumn rainy day!
So a repetition of the rules. Comment and leave your name. Random winner selected on September 30th and prize shipped worldwide and free. Easy.