Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History and Visual Culture



First Advisor

Trenton Olsen

Second Advisor

Sarah Cantor

Third Advisor

Alexis Culotta


The Edo period of Japan (1603-1868) was a time of great cultural and economic growth as the country flourished from political stability under the Tokugawa clan’s rule for over two centuries. During this time, many prints, illustrated books, and paintings were created, the most famous of which are known as ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world.” A popular sub-genre of ukiyo-e were the erotic shunga prints, created by and primarily for men. While most of these prints were heterosexual in nature, there were still several works that depicted homosexual relations. The majority were of male homosexuality, but scenes of female homosexual sex are not uncommon. Many scholars have believed these images were created purely for male fantasy and posit that the use of dildos is proof that they were not likely consumed by actual female homosexuals at the time. This thesis visually analyzes the erotic print Awabi Divers (1820s) by Katsushika Ōi (1800-1866), Katsushika Hokusai’s illustration Manpuku Wagōjin (1821), and the illustration Shunshoku Hana no Shizuku (late 18th to mid 19th centuries) by Keisai Eisen (1790-1848). It also examines gender and sexuality in the Edo period and the symbolism common in ukiyo-e art at the time to examine the differences in how erotic lesbian pieces made by famous male artists differed from the work of the most famous female printer of the time. This study ultimately shows the impact of the male gaze on female homosexuality in the prints of the Edo Japan.


Copyright 2022, Meredith Keukelaar.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.