Plate from the Erotic Book Mounds of Dyed Colors: A Pattern Book for the Boudoir (Someiro no yama neya no hinagata), First Month

Artist: Okumura Masanobu (Japanese, 1686–1764)

Period: Edo period (1615–1868)

Date: ca. 1736–44

Culture: Japan

Medium: Hand-colored woodblock illustration; ink and color on paper

Dimensions: H. 9 9/16 in. (24.3 cm); W. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)

Classification: Prints

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1929

Accession Number: JP1499


The artist’s signature appears in the corner of a screen to the upper right of the scene in which a wakashu (homosexual youth) competes with a courtesan for the attentions of a visitor to the Yoshiwara pleasure district. The opening scenes of erotic books tend to be less risqué than the subsequent images, and this one, the “First Month” from Pattern Book for the Boudoir, is indeed tamer than those for the other eleven months pictured in the book. A seventeen-syllable hokku poem accompanies each image. Here, the reference is to a special species of plum called Niō, alluding to the Guardian King figures that guard a temple gate. One of the sculptures opens its mouth to pronounce the mystical syllable “Aun”—but here it is linked to the playful custom of marking the first laughter or joke of the New Year.

Niō ume
aun no kuchi no
“Guardian Kings” plums
Utters the sacred syllable “Aun”
in the first laugh of the year.

—Trans. John T. Carpenter