The Shunga Exhibit, or ‘The Time My Friend and I Tried to Look at Old Japanese Porn’

Let me tell you about the time I had to charm a guard into letting me view some porn.

There was a shunga exhibit somewhere in Tokyo, and my friend wanted to go.

Shunga is Japanese erotic art that dates back to the Edo era. The term means ‘spring pictures,’ with spring being a euphemism for ‘sex,’ much like ‘Netflix and chill’ is today. Of particular interest was “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife,” often used as a reference for the Japanese fascination with human-octopus relations.

So we hopped on a bus, then a train, and made our way to a tiny museum in the middle of a Toyo suburb that, except for the obviously modern manhole covers, looked like it could have been part of a period film set.

The museum was hard to get to. It was situated on top of a hill, only accessible by a lot of (thankfully easy to climb) stairs. Given that I’m disabled, it took us a while to climb said flight. It took me so much time, in fact, that when we finally got to the museum, it was closing time!

The guard wouldn’t let us in!

So I gathered everything I knew from watching Japanese anime. I started babbling in rapid-fire English about how I had come all the way from the Philippines and how we would have made it earlier except I was disabled and had difficulty climbing the stairs and how we really, really wanted to see the exhibit. I ended my spiel with a big, exaggerated pout, they way they do in anime.

The guard looked at my friend, who explained things in Japanese, then looked at me, then looked back at my friend. Then he let us in for 20 minutes. We still had to pay full price, but at least we got to see the exhibit!

“Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” postcard.

Upon seeing the actual “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” (the famous octopus picture):

Friend: I didn’t expect it to be this small.

Me: That’s what she said.


Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.

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