Picture Book : Plum of the Bedchamber (Toko no ume 艶本床の梅)
Kitagawa Utamaro (喜多川歌麿)
Kansei Era

A folding album in the ‘chuban’ format, employing a “red avoiding” (beni-girai) colour-scheme; the only example of this within Utamaro’s erotic ‘oeuvre’. The preface is by Sukitei, the erotic ‘nom de plume’ of the comic writer Shikitei Samba, who at the end makes reference to Utamaro as the artist, calling him by his erotic alias Mudamara (Waste Prick).

Utamaro even makes an appearance as a character in the pornographic story that concludes the volume, where, significantly, the normal characters of his name are glossed with the pronunciation “Utamaru”. In addition, the Fukagawa prostitute in the third plate addresses her lumberman client as [Masadaya no] Zen-san, and also mentions another lumberman, Murataya no Sho-san. Hayashi Yoshikazu argues these are both slightly altered versions of the names of real-life acquaintances of Utamaro, who make regular appearances in his erotic works, along with the disguised personae of some of his publishers. Thus there is a lot more specific content to Utamaro’s ‘shunga’ than just entertainingly erotic pictures and stories.

The dating of the work relies on a remark made by the man in plate 5: “Oh! Oiwa, I fell for you when I saw you at the Musashiya at the time of the display of treasures at Mimeguri Shrine” (Kore Oiwa-bo Mimeguri no kaicho no toki Musashiya de mi-somete oita). This display of treasures (kaicho) at Mimeguri began on the 15th day of the second month, 1799 (see cat. nos. 328, 329), so the present work is thought to have been issued at the following New Year.