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.
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).”
My Shunga print of Benten Kozo depicts the lead character in the famous Kabuki drama “Aoto Zoshi Hana no Nishikie”. He is an outlaw in late Edo period Tokyo (then called Edo) and in the most famous act of the play he is disguised as a woman in order to stage an elaborate act of fraud in a high class fabric shop. Only when revealing his tattoos does he transform back into a man in the eyes of the other men populating the stage at the moment.
In my erotic portrait of Benten Kozo I have chosen to depict him when pleasuring himself, still in full female attire. I suspect that the blend of women’s clothing, make up and the erect throbbing cock instantly suggests that the scene would be homosexual when viewed through the normative eyes of western culture. But is this really true? What is really going on when you view this art work?
Our gender roles as well as our sexual identities are predominantly decided by the norm of our society at any given moment in history. There is nothing inherently Gay about this image (and I am not saying that it isn’t), yet it comes across as one. I have noticed that when I share an artwork on social media that depicts a cock that is not explicitly entangled in a normative heterosexual encounter most men that usually like or comment positively suddenly vanish from the scene. The comments I receive are usually not very sexually orientated but rather express appreciation for the beauty of a piece, perhaps even the skill with which I have applied my artistic talents. So why does not the very same comments apply to an image of a man masturbating?
I think it has to do with the fear within the male group. To be seen as a lesser man. To be in opposition to the norm. to be “weak” (because strangely enough Gay is almost synonymous with weakness of some sort). Despite all their hoopla, bravado and talk about bravery men are as a group hopelessly afraid for what other men would think of them. Where did we learn all this nonsense? When liking an image on instagram you usually double tap it. Are men imagining that they touch a penis when they touch the image on the screen? Is the conditioning so great?
We as humans in the western hemisphere play an awful lot of weird little games concerning our emotions and sexuality. Lost in abstractions and ideas inherited through the narrow mind of monotheistic religions we set up barriers built of ideas we didn’t even know we had. We are taught a myriad of things as true and then cling on for dear life to all the treasures of stupidity.
When we view erotica and pornography it works as arousal mainly because we imagine ourselves taking part in the act we are viewing. So a heterosexual (another label) male would upon seeing another man having sex with a woman place himself in that role. Why does it not work when viewing a man masturbating? For me it does. Touching and pleasing myself is most pleasurable and I can easily assume this role when viewing it. If you think a cock looks beautiful, does it make you automatically gay? And to be honest, I never ever heard a man say that a pussy was beautiful.
As adults we have to sift through a tremendous pile of rubbish left us by culture and “norm” in order to obtain the few real pearls of reality that are hidden within. A good way of starting to really live and not merely pretend that you do, is to start asking yourself the simple question of “What do I really feel about it?”
For a more in depth view of how my mind works when it comes to erotic art please go here and here.
Here you can view the famous act with Benten Kozo from “Aoto Zoshi Hana no Nishikie”
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.
The Kabuki shunga print “Winter”. The fourth print in the mirror portrait series. Created in June 2016. It is a part of the highly limited edition made in collaboration with Lan’s Gallery in Hong Kong.
Oban size (25,4 x 38 cm)
Limited Edition of 15 prints.
Created June 2016
“The right side of her sweet face could still recall the cool textured wall of the secluded rice storehouse pressed up against it. Her cheeks still blushing from the passionate encounter just moments ago. Her lover had slipped away silently into the approaching dusk and now the snow laden blue grey sky held a promise of soft white coming down. Her breath was slowing down to normal now, her soul turning into fog as she exhaled and let all her emotions escape through her open mouth. The snow white kimono she was wearing was still pulled up and folded into a bundle of silk above her even whiter ass, usually an image reminiscent of the full moon but at the moment wearing the same blush as her face.
It had all happened very quickly. One moment they were walking along the ice covered river beneath silent willows. Strolling next to each other in the customary manner of two young lovers in courtship, yet making sure to keep their physical distance. Inside her, with every intimate word leaving his mouth as a seductive whisper, slowly a warm sensation was building, her heart pounding in her ears. The world around them gently disappearing into the white of the January afternoon.
When the rice storehouse appeared in their path there were no more whispers, no time for customary modesty or hesitation. Like lovers before and forever they were now alone in their trembling dream. His hand decisively pulling her into the shadows. She was wordlessly giving her consent, not wanting him to become shy. She knew him and trusted him. Most of all she trusted herself and that very moment. They existed right there and right now. Beneath the wooden beams they pushed their bodies into each other as if trying to become one single creature, as if trying to erase any distance between them. Even through the slightly coarse fabric of his black kimono she could feel the warmth of his skin, his hard cock searching desperately to escape its jail. They kissed, soft moans escaping, impossible to say whose voice was which as tongues and lips danced, explored, craved… Sometimes, for just a moment, they breathed into each others mouths, exchanging, blending their ghosts into one.
His hand suddenly, finally found a way through her layers of kimono, paused as if to make sure that he had found his way, then gently let his longest finger slide along her pussy as if asking for admittance, her wetness assuring him. With slight pressure he parted her labia and let the tip of his finger stop momentarily just as it entered her. Then he slipped in. They held their breath. Stood trembling. As if this second could last a lifetime. He let his finger slowly glide in and out of her a few times, then searched for her clitoris. She could tell he wasn’t really sure of where to look. He was fumbling and as soon as he found the spot she let him know by breathing harder into his mouth. Her world was spinning. She felt dizzy. Perhaps it was the anticipation and mystery all at the same time? She wasn’t really thinking now, just observing single words flash before her eyes, as if reading her own thoughts on a piece of paper.
Her hand found his warm hard cock. Fingertips soft against the throbbing, pulsating skin. It was easier for her. His clothing consisted of only two layers and she could quickly create an opening in his fabrics for his cock to break out. She looked down and watched her fingers explore the veiny, velvety surface. She grasped around his cock like someone grasping his sword, tightened her grip as if wanting to know how much pressure she should use to give him pleasure. He gasped for air, letting small words of nonsense out, like if he was murmuring in his sleep, dreaming. She let her fingers run up the cock and noticed the drop of pre cum that had formed at the tip of his cock. with the tip of her index finger she smeared the slippery liquid around the head of the cock. He held his breath
They both knew that their time in this small hut was running out. Soon they had to let go of their lustful world and enter back into reality. Keeping their secrets, sharing, concealing their passion. She let go of his cock and turned around, her face against the murky, cold wall. Leaning slightly forward, lifting her ass, she hoped he would know what to do now. His rested his hands on her hips for a few short seconds, then she sensed him kneeling down and grabbing the hem of her collected kimono layers. With a sound of silk ruffling, strangely loud in the wordless erotic atmosphere of the chilly rice storehouse, her calves, then thighs and finally ass was liberated. The assembled layers of fabrics produced a sensation of weight on her back at the same time as her naked skin gasped in the wintery air. His hand gathered the kimonos in a bunch as if to make sure they would not interfere with their love making. As he did so she could feel his warm cock brushing against the cheeks of her ass. She parted her feet slightly and he parted her labia with a finger. She felt him fumbling, searching for where to go, for a way inside her. For a second the soft skin of the head of his cock pushed slightly against her anus. She trembled. It was a heavenly horny and slightly forbidden feeling. Now all she wanted was him deep inside of her. Nothing else mattered. If someone walked in on them now, she wouldn’t care at all. It was all so worth it. Here and now. Them. Her pussy, His cock. What they shared and their intimacy. Worth dying for. Worth waiting for. The greatest of treasures.
She pushed her ass up slightly letting him know that he should search a little lower for what they both wanted. Finally she felt his cock pressing against her pussy. One of her hands grabbed her ass cheek and spread it. He noticed and grabbed the other one. Together they opened her and suddenly he slipped in. Not all the way. They drew deep breaths of pleasure simultaneously and she pushed her body back as he pushed his loins forward. Slowly he sank into the depths of her. Inside her. The hard cock filled her up and she felt his thighs against hers. She squeezed him, using her muscles like a snake and he let out a loud sound pleasure. They stood together, melted into one single being, for a few seconds. Then she began to slowly moving back and forth inviting him to ride her. At first he was gentle, slow, hands placed on her ass. Soon he began moving a little faster, pushing a bit harder now. She liked it like that. Her face against the wall and his cock fucking her from behind. Harder now. She wanted him to fuck her harder. It wasn’t a matter of her coming. She knew that time and the place didn’t allow for that. But she wanted to feel him. She wanted him to fuck her passionately, forget himself and shoot his hot semen deep into her. He followed her lead, moved his hands to her hips and pulled her firmly against his cock at each stroke. The sound of their thighs smacking against each other, the smell of wet pussy and the air thick with lust made her almost faint. Even if she wouldn’t come she loved it, worshipped the intimacy between them. It was a celebration of their shared trust in each others hearts.
His voice started to lose coherence. What came out of his mouth was just sounds now, still trying to be quiet but noticeably louder. His fingers was digging into her, pulling her towards him decisively with each thrust as he was climaxing. Suddenly he tensed into one final spasm, hands firm around her waist, her body as close to his as they could possibly be. He didn’t breathe. He was surprisingly quiet as his cum shot straight up into her, his cock convulsing. He collapsed over her back breathing as heavily as she did. She loved him. He loved her. Here and now.”
Three years ran past me before I finally had the inspiration to create the two final prints in the Mirror Series. In between lay other prints that interested me more at the time as well as life happening as surprisingly as it always does. For this print I chose to play with the theme of the famous Kabuki dance Sagi Musume
Even though the actual Kabuki piece does not contain any apparent erotica, the melancholy beauty that comes across in the Ukiyo-e prints created on this subject did set my romantic/erotic imagination ablaze. As far as erotic or pornographic versions within Ukiyo-e there are numerous examples in the Shunga genre for the one that knows what to look for when deciphering their subject matter and composition.
I choose to leave you this time with a video showing the famous Kabuki actor Tamasaburo performing the dance.
Buy this print. For more on how my erotic mind works please go here
The Shunga Kabuki print “Summer” is re-designed and released in a strictly limited edition of 15 copies in collaboration with Lan’s Gallery in Hong Kong.
Oban size (25,4 x 38 cm)
New Limited Edition of 15 prints.
Created June-August 2013
After successfully completing two Shunga prints showing vaginas (females) reflected in mirrors, I felt it was time for a portrait of an erect cock (male). There was a number of reasons for this being the third in the series. I have always had difficulties adapting to any type of norm or stereotype and when creating erotica or pornography I feel this is even more important.
The poem I have chosen for this print is written by Matsuo Bashō (1644 – 1694) and it reads;
fuji no kaze
ogi ni nosete
Translated into english it becomes;
A breeze from Fuji
transported on a fan – an
During the Edo period in Japan (1603-1868) the phenomenon of Kabuki theatre evolved to become the most highly celebrated form of entertainment for the commoners of Edo society. Kabuki plays did not only serve as a source of excitement, suspense, romance and adventure. It also boasted extravagant sets, lavish clothing and breathtaking effects. The actors were superstars and Ukiyo-e prints portraying scenes and their all male cast (by law women were prohibited to act in Kabuki). All the while many of you may have heard or read about Kabuki, maybe fewer of you know that some actors also doubled as prostitutes. Actors were solicited by men and women alike and as Edo society did not share the stigma cast upon homosexuality or same sex encounters as its western Christian counterparts did, this dressed my Shunga print in a most wonderful kimono of ambiguity. In my imagination the Edo souvenir brought home is the memory of a night of sexual passion with the actor reflected in the mirror.
The actor lustfully presenting his erect and hard cock in my print is Ishikawa Danjūrō in the role of Danshichi Kurobê. Who Is the person admiring and longing to touch and fondle this warm and bulging cock? Only you yourself can answer this question. This image has no heterosexual code attached to it. Everyone is invited to fantasize and take pleasure from it.
In the west we typically classify sexual and erotic encounters as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual etc. Is gender always equal to sexual desires? When I think about heterosexuality I don’t think first and foremost about fucking. I think about who attracts me. I think about love. Sex comes after that. Shouldn’t the same thinking apply to homosexuality? Normally, when these topics comes up people only talks about who fucks who. Emotions and matters of the heart are as always hopelessly absent. Does same sex encounters always mean homosexuality? How come it’s such a norm for heterosexual men to fantasize about watching two women having sex and why does this desire never include watching two men doing the same? Or does it?
I have found that most men stick to the safe cards when it comes to talking to both men and women about their innermost desires. Within the male hierarchy there is a tremendous fear of being judged as weak or different. So much better to be silent and just swim along with all the other fishes. Perhaps I am generalizing. In that case it’s a reaction to decades of being among men where almost no one dares not to be a “man”. If you would ask me about my sexual or rather emotional orientation, I would in lack of a better word call myself heterosexual. And yes, I have sometimes fantasized about sex with men.
In the gender stereotypical portrayal of us, everyone is a loser. Even the individuals and/or cultural structures that silently dictates for us what we are.
Buy this print