貴重な資料を収集・保存・公開することは大変重要なことです。しかし、それと同時に資料を批判・検討・考察することも行っていかなければなりません。日文研では、データベースでの公開を行いながら、資料の翻刻・英訳（『日文研叢書・日文研所蔵近世艶本資料集成シリーズ』）や国際共同研究プロジェクトの遂行、展覧会の開催（2002年フィンランド「Forbidden Images: Erotic Art from Japan´s Edo Period」展、2013年大英博物館「Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art」、2015年永青文庫「春画（SHUNGA）」など）や数々の出版物などによって「艶本・春画とは何か」を考え続けてきました。
The Ehon (Ukiyo-e Shunga) Database: Its Importance and Public Access
Around 30 years ago, the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) began collecting ehon (erotic ukiyo-e books) and shunga (erotic woodblock prints). All of the collected materials were digitized, and were presented for public viewing in 2004 through the “Ehon (Ukiyo-e Shunga) Database”. The collection contains more than 450 items (as of July 2021). In terms of quality as well as quantity, it ranks among the best collections of its type in the world. Furthermore, additions to the collection continue to be made even today.
Previously, usage of this database had been subject to age restrictions that limited it to patrons aged 18 or older. However, in light of changes in the social environment regarding ehon and shunga, the decision has been made to lift these restrictions so that more people can make use of the collection.
In Japanese society since the start of the modern era, ehon and shunga had long been treated as “secret materials.” The images could not be published uncensored, and they were little discussed even in academic settings. In the 1960s, monographs that dealt with these works were treated as “obscene pornographic books and pictures” and went to trial, and both authors and publishers received convictions.
This situation started to change in the 1990s. There were two major turning points for doing research on ehon and shunga in Japan.
First was the lifting of the ban on the publication of unaltered materials. All of the images presented in Ukiyo-e hizō meihin shū (Gakken) published starting in 1991 were reproduced without any alterations. This made it possible for readers to finally become acquainted with ehon and shunga as they would have appeared in their day.
The second has been the holding of shunga exhibitions. Shunga have appeared alongside other works at exhibitions even in Japan, but starting in the 1980s exhibitions began to be held in other countries that were focused specifically on shunga. In the 2000s, a variety of shunga exhibitions were held particularly in Europe. In 2013, a shunga exhibition in which Nichibunken was also involved was held at the British Museum that stimulated much debate around the world. There were plans at the time to also have the exhibition travel to Japan, but they were abandoned after no museum could be found that would accept it. The plans were revived and finally in 2015 it became possible to present the exhibition at the Eisei Bunko Museum in Tokyo. The exhibition had the 18-or-older age restriction, but in any case under the banner of “shunga exhibition” it finally became possible to directly view ehon and shunga in Japan.
Making images collected in databases available for public viewing is a project that institutions gradually began to undertake in the second half of the first decade of the 21st century. Museums in the West made enormous collections available for public viewing over the internet with no passwords required. Japan, too, in recent years has seen an increasing number of systems set up at libraries, universities, and research institutions to put collections online. As noted earlier, Nichibunken, too, made its entire collection available online in 2004, though with restrictions.
The collection, preservation, and public release of precious materials is of considerable importance. However, so, too, is making judgments about them, scrutinizing them, and contemplating their significance. At Nichibunken, in addition to having made the database publicly accessible, we have also continued to think about what ehon and shunga are through various means, including by reproducing these materials annotated with English translations (the Nichibunken Japanese Studies Series: Collected Erotic Texts of the Early Modern Period from the Nichibunken Collection); conducting international joint-research projects; holding exhibitions (e.g., “Forbidden Images: Erotic Art from Japan’s Edo Period,” Finland, 2002; “Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art,” British Museum, 2013; and “Shunga,” Eisei Bunko Museum, 2015); and producing a variety of publications.
On tops of this, we also believe that these materials should be viewable without restriction by large numbers of people. Naturally one can say that these are important as historical materials for learning about Edo society and ways of life and as one kind of artistic and cultural resource. They are also indispensable for putting forward questions about the fundamental matter of human sexuality. Why does laughter go hand in hand with sexuality in Japan? What is the relationship between shunga and faith and religion? How were female bodies and sexuality viewed in the Edo period? We are delighted to make these materials available so that many such questions may be put forth and investigated, and hope that many more people will be able to make good use of them.
On Usage by Site Visitors Under 18
We recommend that use of the database by site visitors under the age of 18 be done so based on the scholarly guidance from experts.