Blog Archives

Write back: A brief look at Oshouji and sexual calligraphy

Anyone that has followed my blogs will know that I have more than a passing interest in Japanese sexual culture. For instance, in previous blogs I have briefly examined various Japanese sexual practices and sex-related topics including Tamakeri (i.e., the masochistic practice of getting sexual pleasure and arousal from being kicked in the testicles), Hentai (i.e., Japanese hardcore Manga cartoon pornography), Shokushu Goukan (i.e., tentacle rape), Nyotaimori (i.e., eating a variety of foods or a whole meal off somebody’s naked body), Omorashi (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure from having a full bladder or a sexual attraction to someone else experiencing the discomfort of a full bladder), and Burusera (i.e., Japanese shops that sell [amongst other things] soiled female undergarments and fetishist school uniforms). There are also some sexually paraphilic behaviours that have their own names within the Japanese sexual culture (such as frotteurism being known as chikan)

While reading an online article on ‘[Ten] sex fetishes you won’t believe exist’ I spotted one on the list that I had not written about before – Oshouji – the other nine being: dendrophilia (sexual arousal from trees), exophilia (sexual attraction for aliens and non-human life forms), objectum sexuality (sexual attraction to inanimate objects), eproctophilia (sexual arousal from flatulence), hybristophilia (sexual arousal from criminals), menophilia (sexual arousal from menstruation), acrotomophilia (sexual arousal from amputees), dacryphilia (sexual arousal from crying), and lactophilia (sexual arousal from breast feeding). In fact, not only had I not written about oshouji in a previous blog but I had never even heard of it before.

Oshouji is a calligraphy fetish (calligraphy being the art of producing decorative handwriting or lettering with a pen or brush). Oshouji specifically involves calligraphy where the decorative writing is done on a person’s (usually naked) body. According to many online websites (that all basically use the same defintion), oshouji is “an ancient tradition and refers to the writing of degrading words in calligraphy on your partner [and is] one of the more artistic fetishes Japan has to offer”. As sex blog writer Coco La More notes: “I am intrigued. Such rich beauty and absolute pleasure. The artistic passion the calligrapher must be feeling. I can just imagine the intense emotion felt by both. I will be adding this one to my list”

According to the Exapamicron website, oshouji dates back to the Edo period of feudal Japan (the Edo period – sometimes referred to as the Tokugawa period – being the period between 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan). Like other Edo forms of eroticism (such as Shunga, a Japanese term for erotic art) oshouji is considered traditional, rich and decadent. The website also claims that oshouji is “not a fetish in the sense that the painted person becomes aroused by the paint, it’s more about the thrill of degrading someone”.

As far as I am aware there is no academic writing or research on the topic (although there are academics with the surname ‘Oshouji’ which was annoying having to wade through paper after paper to see if there was anything written on the practice). Like me, someone else (Zichao) was researching into this topic and was finding the same things as me online. His research questioned whether the word ‘oshouji’ even existed (although he did admit that the act of sexual calligraphy existed):

“I’m writing a catalogue/book for an exhibition on modern Chinese calligraphy, including references to work by Zhang Qiang…This got me interested in trying to work out the history of writing on girls in Chinese, Japanese [and] Korean culture. On various non-Japanese language sites it’s referred to as ‘oshouji’ and described as something that goes back to Edo times, but these all seem to be cribbing the information from the [Tokyo Damage Report] Hentai Dictionary…Making the idea look even more dubious is the fact that typing おしょうじ, オショウジ or even (last-ditch attempt) お書字 into Japanese Google brings up nothing helpful as far as I can see. This makes me suspect that if there’s a name for the practice it’s something else…Obviously it’s something that people do – not just Zhang Qiang, but also the characters in rape and S&M manga (though in magic marker) and there’s even a film about it [The Pillow Book]. It doesn’t help that I know very little about classical Chinese [and] Japanese porn/erotica. Does the writing-on-girls-fetish have a name and a history, or is it just something that crops up spontaneously now and then?”

Another online Hentai dictionary (the Yuribou Hentai Dictionary) noted that the

“Oshouji ‘calligraphy character’ fetish [is] fairly commonly seen in Domination-submissive play in which the Dominant writes characters on the submissive’s body in order to inflict shame and embarrassment to heighten the submissive role. Commonly seen is the writing of “niku” (“meat”) on the forehead”.

As noted in the extract from Zichao above, the most high profile example of oshouji body calligraphy is the 1996 film The Pillow Book film (directed by Peter Greenaway) in which a Japanese model (Nagiko) “goes in search of pleasure and new cultural experience from various lovers. The film is a rich and artistic melding of dark modern drama with idealised Chinese and Japanese cultural themes and settings, and centres on body painting (Wikipedia entry on The Pillow Book)

Sexual calligraphy has also crept into the world of modern art via the work of Pokras Lampas. Lampras has a background in graffiti and street art. As an online Wide Walls profile piece on him notes:

“Lampas works in various spaces and using different mediums, from canvas and walls to the naked body. To a certain extent, the artist is involved in the art of tattoo, providing council and creating sketches when it comes to calligraphy work. However, the aspect of the artist’s practice which is most interesting, resonates the new possibilities of calligraphy within the world of digital urban art. This notion is part of one of his biggest projects…Recently, the artist became involved in a project called Calligraphy on Girls, which aims to show his calligraphy skills to a wider audience through sessions of body painting and photography. The project is an exploration of the female human form, executed with a particular aesthetics and a unique visual language of the artist”.

Whether Lampas’ work can be called an example of oshouji is debatable because it doesn’t appear to involve the use of degrading words (in fact there are few words at all as far as I can see). Oshouji (if it really exists) appears to be a much less prevalent activity than some of the other Japanese sexual practices I have written about although in the absence of any research papers on most forms of Japanese sexual subculture no-one can be really sure how widespread any of these activities are.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Tokyo Damage Report (2009). Hentai dictionary. February 27. Located at: http://www.hellodamage.com/top/2009/02/27/hentai-dictionary/

Wide Walls (2014). Calligraphy on girls, February 1. Located at: http://www.widewalls.ch/body-and-language-calligraphy-on-girls-provoke-article-2014/2-biology-or-culture/

Wikipedia (2015). Shunga. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shunga

Yuribou Hentai Dictionary (2008). Welcome to the Yuribou Hentai Dictionary! July 11. Located at: http://fezeve868.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/welcome-to-yuribou-hentai-dictionary.html

Art palpitations: A brief look at Ruben’s Syndrome

In a previous blog I examined Stendhal Syndrome where some people when exposed to the concentrated works of art, experience a wide range of symptoms including physical and emotional anxiety (rapid heart rate and intense dizziness, that often results in panic attacks and/or fainting), feelings of confusion and disorientation, nausea, dissociative episodes, temporary amnesia, paranoia, and – in extreme cases – hallucinations and temporary ‘madness’. While researching that article, I also came across another condition that would appear to be related to Stendhal Syndrome, namely ‘Rubens Syndrome’ based on a report published in 2000 by the Roman Institute of Psychology (RIOP).

The RIOP reported that 20% of people had engaged in an “erotic adventure” inside an art museum, and the findings were taken from a national Italian survey of 2000 people. Other places where the respondents said they had “erotic adventures” included beaches (43%), trains (22%), and nightclubs (18%). The report’s authors christened this state of emotional sexual arousal as ‘Rubens Syndrome’ named after the Flemish Old Master who painted many sensuous nudes throughout his career.

The researchers claim that the Rubens Syndrome is “a spontaneous response to the beauty of art and that those who are afflicted by it do not enter a museum with sex specifically on their minds”. The report also claims that art admirers are more predisposed towards erotic suggestion and that mythological sexual scenarios are more psychologically engaging than abstract art.  Although I don’t doubt that for most people abstract art is less engaging on a psychological level, I know of no empirical research demonstrating that art lovers are more predisposed towards erotic suggestion (although it wouldn’t surprise me if they were).

I have been unable to track down a copy of the report and as far as I can ascertain, the results of the study have not been published in a peer-reviewed academic journal (therefore I have no idea as to how robust the data are, how the data were collected, and how representative the data were of typical visitors to art museums). The study also claimed that Greek sculptures and works by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) were more likely to lead to sex than artworks by Paulo Veronese (1528-1588) or Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1698-1770). The psychologists also compiled a list of the best Italian art museums based on their “ability to awaken Eros”, the Greek god of love.

(If you are really interested, the best seven art museums for erotic stimulation were the Palazzo Doria [Genoa], Pinacoteca di Brera [Milan], Gallery of Modern Art [Turin], Accademia [Florence], Villa Panza [Varese], Guggenheim [Venice], and Capodimonte Museum [Naples]. The psychologist Dr. Massimo Cicogna was asked why these particular art museums were the most erotically stimulating and his response was that the ideal art museum is “one that is not too busy, so it allows for the easy observation of the other visitors”).

It would appear that the main difference between Stendahl Syndrome and Ruben Syndrome is that Stendhal Syndrome provokes strong negative and (arguably) passive emotional reactions whereas Rubens Syndrome provokes strong positive and active emotional reactions that some people feel they have to act upon. Following the publication of the study, one of the daily Italian newspapers Il Gazzettino reported:

“Who would ever have said that the corridors of the Accademia Museum in Florence were more erotically charged than the atmosphere in a discotheque? That Botticelli’s Primavera instigates hard-core thoughts and actions, and that the rooms of the Guggenheim Museum in Venice are more stimulating than Viagra?”

According to Professor Willy Pasini (University of Milan, Italy): “Cultural seduction has existed since antiquity. Art has always activated an intensely erotic mechanism – otherwise what sort of art would it be?” Italian sexologist Serenella Salomoni was also interviewed by the Italian press about Rubens Syndrome and claimed it was more commonplace among non-Italian tourists than locals. Her reasoning was based on her claim that “Italians are expressive and less repressed by nature. For a more emotionally contained foreigner, it may take a beautiful painting to provoke strong, sexual feelings”.

Furthermore, according to politician, art critic, and self-confessed lothario Vittorio Sgarbi:

“To visit a museum, it is necessary to be able to love. Eroticism and the love of art, then, are perfectly compatible and interchangeable. Plus, it’s evident that someone who goes to a museum has considerable time available. At the end of the visit, there is a residue of amorous stimulation”.

In an online essay in a 2003 issue of the online magazine Frieze about both Stendhal Syndrome and Rubens’ Syndrome, Melinda Guy argued that both syndromes raise interesting questions about artists’ intentions and their audience’s response, and said: “Perhaps we could use these pathologies to determine cultural value: surely the work that provokes the most Stendhalian (or Rubensian) reactions is truly the most significant?”

As there is no empirical or clinical evidence confirming or denying the existence of Rubens’ Syndrome, I’ll leave you with the thoughts of psychologist Bruce Melnick who in a short article for the Institute for the Psychological Study of the Arts made these observations:

“There is also something in the museum setting, apart from what is actually being shown, that conduces to erotic adventure. The people you see in a museum have at least one interest in common with you…They have come to the museum, like you, for some kind of sensual stimulation…And above and beyond these specifics is the general awareness that museums are places, set apart from the normal world, where we go specifically for purposes of aesthetic contemplation, where, therefore, the usual social rules do not quite apply. This awareness in itself probably fosters erotic fantasy and contact…To oversimplify a bit, we go to museums to look and fantasize. It’s not surprising that some of that should carry over from the pictures on the walls to the people standing in front of them”.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Guy, M.  (2003). The shock of the old. Frieze (Volume 72). Located at: http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/the_shock_of_the_old/

Magherini, G. (1989). La Sindrome di Stendhahl. Firenze: Ponte Alle Grazie.

Melnick, B. (2001). PSYART archives: Rubens’ Syndrome. August 4. Located at: http://www.lists.ufl.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0108A&L=PSYART&P=1863

PervScan (2003). Rubens’ Syndrome. August 2. Located at: http://pervscan.com/2003/08/02/rubens-syndrome/

Squires, N. (2010). Scientists investigate Stendhal Syndrome – fainting caused by great art. Daily Telegraph, July 28. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/7914746/Scientists-investigate-Stendhal-Syndrome-fainting-caused-by-great-art.html#

Turner, J. (2001). Museum visitors in Italy list the works most likely to inspire an “erotic adventure”. ARTnews, January 10. Located at: http://www.artnews.com/2001/10/01/pickup-artists/