Sunday, March 22, 2009

Things they don't tell you about Japan

I talked to people who had been there before me and I read a fair bit, but there were still a few things I wasn't prepared for that I saw at every corner. First, Japanese people walk slow. Also, all the cats have short tails. In the 15 months I spent there, I saw maybe three cats with full-length tails. Maybe because they were strays and got them eaten off by other cats or something.

Here's some pictures taken out of a book I found. The French impressionist movement was inspired in part by the Japense Ukiyoe (浮世絵) - pictures of the floating world. In every Japanese culture or art class I took, they would tell that the floating world is the red light and entertainment districts of pre-meiji Japan, but then go on to show lots of pictures of landscapes and scenes of townspeople doing whatever they do. Sometimes there'd be a lady putting on makeup or something, and there are some famous pictures of Kabuki actors, but other than the brief mention of the red lights there'd be nary a trace of them after the first introduction.

I found a book of 艶色浮世絵. I'm not sure exactly what 艶色 means, but the first character means lustrous or shiny, and the second one means color. If you get the first character and stick a 然 on it it becomes 艶然, which means seductive. So I guess 艶色 means either shiny colors or sexy colors. From this book, though, the meaning becomes clear. This book is a collection (or part of a collection, rather. It's book 4 in its series) With your kind permission, I humbly present to you the highlights.

We'll start off as tame as it gets. There are a lot of these in the book, just different outfits and faces. I think this guy went to the B. Dooley school of lovemaking. I'm not sure if anyone reads this blog that will get the reference.

And who doesn't love a little lesbian porn? But what's that they're reading?

Aha! They have a book of 艶色浮世絵! This picture makes me feel really connected with history. They might be looking at a picture that I have in my own book!

This couple is illuminated by a lamp in the corner of the picture. The look on the guy's face carries a sense of regret with a hint of boredom and resignation. Maybe he's wishing he could afford a hotter prostitute. Or maybe he just realized he left his keys in the car.

Here's a closeup. This was from a different picture - they printed one version and then stuck some darkness over the top of it to make a new version. These are woodblock prints, so modifications like that would be quite easy.

This guy appears to have snuck up on his lady while she was doing laundry. Check out the writing.

Writing itself is considered an art form. Almost all of the pictures in this book have calligraphy as well as the people themselves. From what I've seen of Japanese calligraphy the more illegible the more beautiful it is deemed, and it's taken to the point that even native Japanese can have a hard time reading it without a lot of experience. The editors of this collection have been kind enough to transcribe some of it for the reader. Usually it sets up the scene a bit and then gets in to the dialogue. This one is pretty creepy. I'm sure someone else could translate it better than I, but what follows is good enough for now.

Man: "How is that? Is it good? [he used katakana there for those of you who speak Japanese] Today's really good for me, too. The taste has become especially better since the time of 新鉢 [new bowl?? no idea, but probably dirty]. It's like it's sucking me in. That's a good taste. I've got no other wishes than to live the rest of my life with this kind of feeling.

Woman: "Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, I'm going to pass out. It's a feeling that is better not to stop. It's outrageous. Why is it like this?"

Some of the pictures get quite heavy with the otomatopoeia. Very fun, though judgements as to how classy it may be I'll leave to the reader.

This one appears to be mentally composing his shopping list. Do I need to get more milk...?

A pirate! Wait, a foreigner! He is, according to the caption, a "brown southern barbarian wearing a captain's hat."

And this couple appears to have an audience. I'm pretty sure that's a screen to the left of them, but only a sadist would paint a creepy old guy watching a room that was going to be occupied by naked people.

Here's a guy in the high roller suite.

And here's a couple watching TV

Here's another lady with an audience.

And here's a couple also using a tool. Interesting that even in 1802, the year this picture was made, people preferred their dildos big and black.

This one is a pretty straightforward picture, but I just want to direct the readers to compare the size of his dong to the size of his dome.

There you have it! A selection of Japanese art from the early 1800's.


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