Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 Azuma Genji 吾妻源氏, [ca. 1830]

Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (1786-1865)

Hana Sanjin 鼻山人 (1790-1858), author

Azuma Genji 吾妻源氏

Volumes 1, 3 (of 3)
Edo period (1603-1868), [ca. 1830]
Woodblock printed book; ink, color, and metallics on paper

26.3 x 19.4 cm


Azuma Genji (Eastern Genji


Azuma Genji is a luxuriously produced three-volume set of erotica, illustrated by Utagawa Kunisada, with text by popular writer Hana Sanjin (1790-1858). Azuma Genji was published in the 1830s during the height of Inaka Genji popularity (see pp. …). The title and preface suggest a connection to The Tale of Genji. However, the main text is based on another popular novel, Shin Usuyuki monogatari (The New Tale of Usuyuki), about the doomed love affair of Princess Usuyuki, published in 1716 and adapted for the stage. Kunisada’s illustrations do not strictly follow Shin Usuyuki monogatari, instead occasionally alluding to it. Here, the reference to Genji in the title made use of period associations of the tale with elegance, refinement, and the erotic. This was often the case with Genji-titled erotica from the Edo period.


Over 130 erotica titles are attributed to Kunisada, including Enshoku shinasadame discussed previously. Azuma Genji is signed under Kunisada’s pseudonym, Bukiyō Matahei. This signature and a seal reading namazu, or “catfish,” are visible on the left corner of the screen in the background of the image here. Writer Hana Sanjin used the variant name Ōhana Sanjin. Artists and authors typically did not sign erotica in order to skirt the bans on this material. By using a pseudonym, Kunisada covertly claims authorship; it is likely that only a limited audience would have known him by this name. Erotic books like this one also did not include colophons, making it difficult to determine bibliographic information such as publishers, other contributors, date, and place of publication. The illustrations are enhanced with embossing to give texture and depth, as well as rich colors, gold, silver, and mica.

Eri Mizukane

Selected Readings:


Hayashi Yoshikazu. Edo enpon daijiten. Tokyo: Kawade shobō shinsha, 2011.


———. Utagawa Kunisada. Tokyo: Kawade shobō shinsha, 2011.

Higuchi Kazutaka. Kunisada no shunga. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2018.