March 26, 2020 1 min read

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Upon the crashing waves of the shore, two octopi entwine and coil around a woman who throws back her head in rapture. Playfully using their sucking tentacles and mouths on her erogenous zones, this piece by Hokusai portrays raw, female sexual pleasure.

Perhaps the most famous Shunga print of all time, the story behind this piece lies far deeper than bestiality. In “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife”, otherwise known as ‘Diver and Two Octopi’, Hokusai quite literally turns a Japanese mythical story on its head.

The legend that Hokusai based this image on is Taishokan: a tragic story of female self-sacrifice. Tricked by her husband, a young shell-diver must retrieve a precious stolen jewel from the underwater dragon king in order to ensure her son’s future. She dives into the sea kingdom and takes back the jewel, but after being chased by the king’s guards, doesn’t make it to the surface. Instead, she cuts open her chest to hide the jewel, which is then discovered inside her dead body. This mythical story was incredibly popular and, like many Edo legends, was later eroticised and parodied into works of Shunga.

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