Be careful what you hang on your wall

…because it might turn out to be something you’d rather not explain to dinner guests!

Let’s say you’re browsing around a flea market in Japan, and you discover this jolly woodblock print of five samurai-era men having a little chin-wag. Naturally, because it’s a flea market, you snag it at a bargain price! What a great souvenir to hang on your wall back home!

Until someone who can read the squiggly writing around the edges asks how you became fascinated by…

The "Five Male Types" woodblock print by Utamaro

…the five types of men who frequented the pleasure quarter of Yoshiwara, each defined by his, er, “twigs and berries”!

If you’re a reader of Victorian delicacy, you may wish to stop here and move on to the alternative delights of cherry blossom season in Hirosaki, but if your mind (like mine!) won’t say no to an occasional stroll through the gutter, read on to discover what kind of wedding tackle these five fine flaneurs are flaunting…

#1 – Mr. One Size Fits All

Detail from the "Five Male Types" woodblock print by Utamaro
The man wearing a striped robe is described as having “…a licentious and sticky phallus” which “answering the middle of the gate,* at the time of expansion does not get wider for the larger, and does not get narrower for the smaller”

#2 – Mr. Unforgettable

Detail from the "Five Male Types" woodblock print by Utamaro
The frowny dude at the top has “a jade stem with a high goose-like wart” a strange (and slightly pathological-sounding) condition that guarantees a “woman who tries this stem once will find it difficult to forget its flavor for her entire life.” Let us hope they mean that in a good way

#3 – Mr. Big

Detail from the "Five Male Types" woodblock print by Utamaro
Because this fellow’s “aspect of his body feature being 8 sun (24.24cm/9.7in)” he is “loathsome to virgins” and “the kind that remains hidden”

#4 – Mr. Dark Horse

Detail from the "Five Male Types" woodblock print by Utamaro
Although this country bumpkin is just a hick from the provinces, it would be a mistake to underestimate his pleasure sword, which “when entering the gate will not appear ready at first, because his stem is extremely soft, then suddenly, all goes extremely well.”

#5 – Mr. Bee’s Knees

Detail from the "Five Male Types" woodblock print by Utamaro
And this fellow is apparently the dandy of all dandies, a man of such taste and sophistication that he “has an extremely elegant phallus” and “when pressing a woman’s pleasure gate, this phallus is the non plus ultra

Which just goes to show, those neglected blocks of gray text in our coffee table art books just might be a goldmine of surprising info!

* As one might guess, “the gate” is Yoshiwara slang for the corresponding female anatomy

The Thing I Learned Today is a new feature I’m adding because I thought you might enjoy the truly odd nuggets I’ve been discovering amid the stack of academic tomes I’ve been reading for book research!

This woodblock print and the translation quotes are from Julie Nelson Davis’s “Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty,” published by University of Hawaii Press. The print is called “Five Male Types” and it’s from Utamaro’s “Illustrated Book: First-time Princesses”

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Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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