Tokugawa Period Response Paper


TokugawaPeriod Response Paper

Tokugawa periodfocused mainly on the urban popular culture and its symbolicrepresentation. In other words, sex language in Tokugawa Japan andthe one used in this period includes both the visual words andimages. To do so, one has to understand the predominant way in whichindividuals at this place and time viewed sexuality as a way ofexpression. Towards the end of 19th century, Tokugawa viewof sexuality had started to undergo major changes, majorly as aresult of intervention from the state. The paper therefore attemptsto respond to comparison of sexuality between Tokugawa periods withthat of other periods.

The prints fromwoodblock were images created by pressing successions from curvedwooden blocks. More often, every block submerged in a different inkcolor then onto a thin canvas or a piece of stationary paper. The keyaim here is that the prints from woodblock were produced in massesfor resale to the public. Even though art had been turned into aconsumable product, efficient production of prints from woodblock“lowered the prices for most of the Edo residents to afford”(Ihara et al., 1947).And due to release of the prints to the generalpublic, presentation of topics and themes created a wide appeal, forinstance, popular stage actors, famous places for natural beauty,sumo athletes, and social and political scandals. The mostpopular topic was of such prints were glamour, romance, and sex.

The Tokugawaperiod had the prints that were generally known as ukiyo-e, whichmeans “the images from the floating world”. A lot of peoplethought wrongly that such a term meant erotic images, maybe because alot of ukiyo-e turned erotic. However, the ukiyo-eencompassed the landscape scenery and a number of non-eroticthematic sceneries. According to Ihara et al. (2005), erotic printsfrom woodblocks were known mostly as shunga, which means“spring pictures”. The term “spring” often meant the“youthful sexual beauty” in Japanese, back then and even now(Murasaki, 1976). Early ukiyo-e, during the first decades ofthe Edo (Tokugawa period), were mainly paintings. Passion lurkedbeneath the painting surface, while the princess reads eagerly theletter from samurai. Public bathhouses as very many in Tokugawa, andmost of these were just places to take a bathe, but withoutconnection with prostitution practices. One of the most commonthemes, perhaps, was the courtesans that inhabited pleasure quartersin every major urbanized area.

It should benoted that during the 1960s, prints from woodblock started to appear,most often in the pages that illustrated the handbooks on sex. It iseasy to also note that such sets of woodblocks created the prints,and could therefore be produced in large quantities. Even though itwas initially expensive, prices of the prints steadily dropped as alot of methods were produced efficiently due to consumers demand(Ihara et al., 1947). It should be noted that these manualsillustrating sex presented a perfect legitimacy during the day.

Having examinedsuggestive of sexually explicit prints from woodblock, and based onthe ancient quote “The rascal moemon, stealing a woman morebeautiful than all others, could be paid even though he has to paywith his worthless life”, there are symbolism that is mostly visualsexuality of the Edo period. In response to the explicit nature,there is also the case of sexual language or symbolism that was notbalanced. It only studies the material from prints and books, whichwas only created almost entirely by man for men. It is true,therefore, to say that the symbols during the period were almostentirely male-oriented (Ihara et al., 1947). Furthermore, it is trueto say that what is majorly dealt in the Japanese cities is the urbanculture, especially that of Tokugawa period. There is a highpossibility that urban-dwelling women and men could easily haveunderstood these male symbols however, it is possible that their owncommunication on sexual matters could possibly have resulted in adifferent symbolic connotation.

In comparison tothe Tale of Genji, the material here is based on the realm of popularculture, a mistake should not be made regarding it since it is highlytransparent and simple in its meaning. Erotic poems, images, andstories, all contained multiple layers of related symbolism, andconsumers of such texts enjoyed apparent mental unravelling of suchsymbols (Murasaki, 1976). The artists of Tokugawa period had at theirdisposal symbolic and vast literary tradition in addition to China’svast literary traditions that were compare to the Tale of Genji’ssymbolic sexual traditions. The Tale of Genji scenes were referencedfrom the famous Chinese antiquity poets’ common during the Japaneseeroticism of the Tokugawa period.

In response tothe above comparison, few scenes from the Heian –period classicprompts the readers to have identified the scene as a possiblemeeting place between prince Yugao and Prince Genji, with whom thereis tragic and intense relationship. It should be noted that the imagethat is present here is not a temptation to replication of ladyMurasaki’s scene. Ihara et al. (1947) reaction was that the sceneaimed at translating the scene into the 18th centurycultural context. Genji’s ox cart and servant, “has been reducedinto a mere box that carries a young boy” (Murasaki, 1947). Theflowing stream in which Yugao is standing on is a perfectrepresentation of the flow of sexual passions. The image in realsense is infused into double-layered erotic senses. It thereforepresents the beginning of that affair in terms of contemporaryglamour and sex symbol. It is also important to know that in JapaneseTokugawa period, sexuality was widely identified as an importantrealm of life as a whole for both the individuals and whole of thesociety.


Ihara, S., &amp De Bary, William Theodore, (1947). Five women wholoved love: A translation of the Kōshoku Gonin Onna of IharaSaikaku. New York.

Murasaki, S. (1976). The tale of Genji: Vol. 1. Tokyo: Tuttle.