A Rare Shunga, Complete with the Extremely Rare Sequel

Gazu tamamodan [or] Gazu gyokusodan [The Story of Tamamo-no-Mae, Illustrated].

25 color-printed double-page woodcut illus. & three color-printed full-page woodcut illus. 22; 18; 19; 21; 19; 17 folding leaves (some mis-paginations). Six vols. (numerated “1-6” in the first line of text of each vol.). 8vo, orig. speckled wrappers (rubbed), orig. block-printed title labels on upper covers (labels rubbed), early stitching. Edo: Ochakuya, ca. 1830-31.

First edition of this very rare erotic story of the famous Tamamo-no-Mae, a legendary figure in Japanese mythology. She is based on Huli jing, the nine-tailed fox, a Chinese mythological creature who could be either a good or bad spirit. In Japan, the fox metamorphosizes into the beautiful and intelligent Tamamo-no-Mae. Employing this deception, she becomes the most favored courtesan of Emperor Toba and causes him to become ill. Her deception is finally revealed through exorcism, and the emperor later has Tamamo-no-Mae killed in the plains of Nasu.

Our set of this rare shunga work appears to be unique, as it contains the original three-volume work and its sequel, also in three volumes. We can find no record of the three-volume sequel in the usual reference works describing institutional holdings (although the ARC refers to a set with two of the sequel’s three volumes in private hands).

The National Institute of Japanese Literature (NIJL) in Tokyo owns a set of the first three volumes and has produced a fine digital version. We have found many interesting differences between that set and ours. First, and most important, our set has seven unique illustrations not in the NIJL set. The NIJL set contains only 12 double-page illustrations (and two single-page), but five come from the sequel. The first three volumes of our set contain 14 double-page illustrations (and two single-page).

Regarding the coloring: the two sets demonstrate very different patterns of coloring and applications of metallic pigments (and in our set the silver has remained unoxidized). In many cases — but not all — our coloring is more delicate and complex. The differences are absolutely fascinating.

Keisai (1790-1848), of samurai birth, was one of the principal ukiyo-e artists of erotica in the later Edo period, rivalling Hokusai, Kunisada, and Kuniyoshi. From the 1810s, he became known for his highly eroticized images of women and for his explicit erotic books. A man of dissolute habits, he retired from the art world in about 1830 and owned a house of prostitution.

“Of this group [of the Utagawa school] Keisai Eisen and Hiroshige were the chief figures…[Eisen was] the son of Ikedo Yoshikiyo, a Kano painter of Yedo, a writer and a well-known cha-jin or tea ceremony expert. Eisen thus had a much higher social position than most of the Ukiyo-ye artists and was familiar with both the Tosa and Kano methods of work. Later he abandoned the classic art and with it, unhappily [not in our opinion], a good many other restraining influences, becoming an exponent of the popular school and adopting the loose manners and morals of many of its members. His ability was undoubted, however, and he was probably the best of Eizan’s pupils.”–Brown, Block Printing & Book Illustration in Japan, pp. 192-93.

The author of the text was Shunsui Tamenaga (1790-1844), the pen name of Sadataka Sasaki. He was a major writer of the late-Edo period, famous for his romantic novels and for having dsobeyed the Tenpo Reforms. For his writings, many of which were erotic, he was put under house arrest in 1842 and kept in manacles for 50 days.

In very good condition with inevitable thumbing in the lower outer corners. There are two small burnholes in the left-hand panel of the fourth double-page illustration in Vol. 1.

❧ For Keisai, see Hillier, The Art of the Japanese Book, pp. 821-26, 894, 900-02, & 904. The Ritsumeikan University webpage for its Art Research Center reproduces a very poor set.

Price: $9,500.00

Item ID: 6721

See all items by ,