Friday, October 12, 2007

Ancient Japan

Male couple on a futon
Early 1680s; One of the very first examples of hand-coloured ukiyo-e prints in the shunga (erotic) style.
Hishikawa Moronobu (1618-1694); Ôban format, 10.25" x 15"; Sumi ink and color on paper; Private collection.

The Japanese term nanshoku is the Japanese reading of the same characters in Chinese, which literally mean "male colours." The character still has the meaning of sexual pleasure in both China and Japan. This term was widely used to refer to male-male sex in ancient Japan.

According to Gary Leupp, the ancient Japanese associated nanshoku with China, a country from which borrowed ideas became the basis for much of Japanese high culture, including their writing system (kanji, Chinese characters). The Japanese nanshoku tradition drew heavily on that of China (see Homosexuality in China), and to a more limited extent, that of Korea.

A variety of obscure literary references to same-sex love exist in ancient sources, but many of these are so subtle as to be unreliable; another consideration is that declarations of affection for friends of the same sex were also common.Nevertheless, references do exist, and they become more numerous in the Heian Period, roughly the 11th century. In Genji Monogatari , The Tale of Genji), written in the early 11th century, men are frequently moved by the beauty of youths.

In one scene the hero is rejected by a lady and sleeps instead with her brother:

Genji pulled the boy down beside him . . . Genji, for his part, or so one is informed, found the boy more attractive than his chilly sister.

The Tale of Genji is a novel (often considered the world's first), but there exist several Heian diaries which contain references to homosexual acts as well. Some of these also contain references to Emperors involved in homosexual relationships and to "handsome boys retained for sexual purposes" by Emperors.

Historical sources

A Kabuki actor and rentboy charms his client with agreeable conversation; Print from Kitagawa Utamaro, The Pillow Book (Uta Makura), 1788.

Available sources on homosexual behaviour in ancient Japan are largely literary. Although a unified Japan existed from about the 4th century, Japan's written historical records really begin with the Kojiki , or Record of Ancient Matters (, compiled in the early 7th century. While Chinese references from the 6th century BCE contain homosexual references, similar references in Japan begin to appear in about the 10th century.


Originally, shudo, wakashudo and nanshoku were the preferred terms. Currently, seiaisha , literally same-sex-loving person) has become the only term available.

The term gay is almost never used in discussing ancient and historical sources because of the modern, western, political connotations of the word and because the term suggests a particular identity, one with which homosexuals even in modern Japan may not identify.More recently the contraction "homo" has been used; somewhat confusingly this term was used both positively and pejoratively.

Nowadays the terms gei (transliteration of gay) and rezu or rezubian transliterations of lesbian) are the most common in the gay community, while pejorative terms like okama (literally cooking "pot " probably an influence of the Portuguese slang for homosexuals, paneleiro) are sometimes used.

Comparisons with the West

Unlike the West, in Japan sex was not viewed in terms of morality, but rather in terms of pleasure, social position, and social responsibility. While modern attitudes to homosexuality have changed, this is largely true even today. Like the premodern West, however, only sexual acts were seen as being homosexual or heterosexual, not the people performing such acts.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

St. Francis Xavier:Jesuit Missionary

Japanese portrait of Francis Xavier with Monoyama Inscription Kobe Museum, Kobe Japan

Thus Western influence had a decisive role to play in this reversal of fortune. From their very first contacts with the remote island empire, European explorers and merchants bristled at the “loose morals” and “depravity” of their hosts. The Portuguese writer Luis Frois, in his Historia do Japao, documents an encounter in 1550 between the party of Jesuit friar Francis Xavier and the daimyo of Yamaguchi, Ouchi Yoshitaka:

“The lord welcomed them warmly and said that he would like to hear the new doctrine of the kirishitan’ (Christians). Brother Juan Fernandez read in a loud voice from a notebook in which were translated into Japanese the account of the Creation and the Ten Commandments. Having touched on the sin of idolatry and on the other faults committed by the Japanese, he arrived at the sin of Sodom, which he described as ‘something so abominable that it is more unclean than the pig and more low than the dog and other animals without reason’. Yoshitaka then seemed to be angered and made a sign for them to go out. But the king made not a word of reply, and Fernandez believed that he would order them to be killed.” (Watanabe and Iwata, 1989, pp.20-21)

Though the slowly increasing presence of Christian missionaries lent support to those who disapproved of male love practices, it was not until the Meiji restoration of 1867, a direct result of the opening of Japan carried out under the threat of American guns in 1854, that Western Christian morality began to dominate Japanese thought, and wakashudo went into its final eclipse. Tahuro Inagaki, in The Aesthetics of Adolescent Love, writes:

“Without our noticing it this cultural tradition has been lost to us… When we were schoolboys we often heard of an affair in which two students had quarreled on account of a beautiful young boy and had ended by drawing knives... But since the new era of Taisho (1912–1926) we no longer hear of this kind of thing. The shudo which had clung on to life has now reached its end.” (Watanabe and Iwata, 1989, p.124)

Christian missionaries, as well as European explorers and merchants, degraded the Japanese for their lack of "morality", and disapproved of their practices involving male love.

Mark McLelland - A History of Queer Japan

"Homosexuals in uniform" from the 1947 magazine "True Tales" (Shinso Jitsuwa)

Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005) is a companion volume to my edited collection Queer Voices from Japan: First-Person Narratives from Japan's Sexual Minorities (forthcoming 2006).

Queer Japan is an exploration of the Japanese subculture of "kono sekai" - a term meaning "this world" which is frequently used by members of Japan's sexual minorities to refer to their discovery of and participation in a variety of non-mainstream sex and gender cultures. The book provides a historical outline of the development of sexual-minority identity categories and community formation in Japan's postwar culture through a detailed analysis of discussions in both niche and mainstream publications (including magazines, newspapers, biographies, memoirs, and Internet sites).

Key texts discussed in the monograph will be translated, introduced and annotated in the companion volume Queer Voices from Japan. Chapters Introduction

  1. Heteronormativity on the road to war

  2. Japan's postwar perverse culture

  3. Gay boys, blue boys and brother girls

  4. The development of a homo subculture

  5. Toward a lesbian and gay consciousness

  6. Transgender lives

Gekko HAYASHI (a.k.a. Gojin ISHIHARA)

The image from Shinosuke Ishihara (artist's son)

・Worked in from eary 70's to late 80's on "Sabu"

Funayama Sanshi

The image from private collection

Worked in mid 60's on "Fuzoku-Kitan" and eary 70's on "Barazoku"
It was in these magazines— Barazoku, first published in 1971 and Sabu in 1974 that 'gay erotic art' emerged as a distinct genre since, as well as reproducing illustrations in each monthly issue, the magazines also brought out special picture editions which created a greater market and thereby encouraged more artists to begin creating art tailored to this market.

Okawa Tatsuji

The image from private collection

・Worked in mid 60"s on "Fuzoku-Kitan" and 70's "Barazoku"
In 1963 Bara [Rose], a simple paper-bound magazine running from 42 to 58 pages appeared. Like Adonis, it was available by subscription only—in order to receive copies, subscribers had to send a fee directly to the publisher. Bara's contents were largely similar to those of Adonis, including discussion articles, erotic stories and photographs and illustrations.
Unlike the perverse magazines, Adonis and Bara were not available from booksellers (although some copies ended up in second-hand stores) and could only be subscribed to, this meant that they had extremely limited circulations. However, they did provide a training ground for writers and artists who were to contribute to the first commercial homosexual magazines of the early 1970s.

Go Hirano

The image from Mr Bungaku Ito(Barazoku)

Worked in mid 60's on "Fuzoku-Kitan", from eary 70's to late 90's on "Barazoku"
The change in the paradigm of homosexual identity is further discernable in several privately produced 'homophile' magazines mentioned by Tagame which were in circulation in Japan during the 1950s and 60s and which also reproduced works by these artists.
The Adonis Kai or Adonis Organization had been founded as early as 1952 and published an in-house magazine for its members entitled Adonis. This modest magazine, usually running to a little over forty pages, was published from 1952 until 1962, totaling 63 issues in all.

Go Mishima

A burgeoning subculture emerged after World War II alongside the gay underground. The Yakuza -- the so-called "Japanese Mafia",with taciturn manliness, cropped haircuts, and elaborate body tattoos -- exerted a fascination for the artist that became a signature attribute of his later artwork. His friendship with Yukio Mishima was, not surprisingly, forged at a gymnasium.

Both shared an interest in bodybuilding, karate, fencing, and other sports, as well as an admiration of the male body and the attributes of masculinity.

At Yukio Mishima's encouragement, the artist began to express his homoerotic desires in his artwork, and he began to draw the male nude in earnest, including the realistic depiction of genitals, which was illegal.
Around the same period, during the late 50s and early 60s, Mishima became familiar with and admired the drawings of Tom of Finland (1920-1991). Of the same generation, there are many similarities in their artistic output and socio-sexual impact.

After Yukio Mishima committed seppuku (ritualistic hari-kiri) in 1970, Goh Mishima's work took a darker, more violent turn. Reflecting the influence of his friend and mentor, Mishima began to depict bondage, torture, and masochism in his work.
Fûzoku kitan's choice of a very 'masculine' style of homosexual imagery is further evidence of the retreat from 'traditional' transgender and transgenerational patterns of homosexual interaction toward more masculine modes of homosexual identity and experience which was also taking place in Japan during this period—independently, it would seem, from changes taking place in the US.
However, while the artworks in the collection evince the same trend away from feminine toward more masculine and hypermasculine representations of homosexuality, what is specific to the Japanese genre is the sadomasochistic setting of many of the illustrations and the extraordinary extent to which some pictures are imbricated with violence and death. Indeed, violence, sadism and masochism have remained constant themes in Japanese gay art and are developed to an extreme in the art of Mishima himself. Quite how this sadomasochistic subtext relates to a supposedly imminent gay identity, however, remains unexplored.

1970s to Modern day

Beginning in the early 1970s with artists such as Moto Hagio, the genre known as "boy love" (shonen'ai) soon established itself as a favorite with Japanese women and remains popular today.

Moto Hagio began to show artistic talent at a very young age. In her second year of high school she decided to become a manga artist. In 1969, Hagio made her professional debut in Nakayoshi with the short story 'Ruru to Mimi'. Later, for Shogakukan Publishing, she produced a string of short stories for various magazines, culminating in 1971 with 'Juichigatsu no Gimunajiumu'. It gave birth to a genre of girls' comics about love between young men. In 1974, Hagio developed this story into the longer 'Toma No Shinzo'. She was awarded the Sogakukan Comics Award in 1976, for her science-fiction classic 'Juichinin Iru!' and her epic tale 'Po No Ichizoku'.

A much less extensive and far less graphic genre of "girls' love" (shojo ai) has also developed, although the creators of these manga, like those of the boy love genre, do not engage in identity politics and would not consider their illustrations to be of "lesbian sex," which in Japan still invokes images of women-women scenes in mainstream male pornography.

The indigenisation in Japan of the term 'gay' is an interesting example of cross-cultural borrowing. By the end of the war, 'gay' had established itself as a common referent among homosexual men and women all over the US since the mass mobilization of US forces, bringing homosexuals together from all parts of the country, standardized gay slang. Gay [gei] subsequently entered Japanese via homosexuals in the Occupation Forces. Mishima Yukio mentions the term 'gay' (in Roman letters) in his 1952 novel Kinjiki [Forbidden Colours] where he glosses it as 'American slang for danshokuka'—the latter term being a neologism made up of the traditional term for male love nan/danshoku and the nominalising suffix 'ka' or 'ist'. However, the fact that he has to gloss the term suggests that it was not widely understood at this time.

Yet, by the late 50s gei, especially as part of the compound gei bôi, was frequently used in the Japanese media to describe effeminate homosexual men, and was used as the title of Tomida Eizô's 1958 book, Gei, where he described gei bôi as 'more feminine than today's boyish young women.'(Tomida Eizô (1958), Gei, Tokyo: Tôkyô shobô, p. 181)

The widespread use of the term gei in Japanese therefore predates the use of 'gay' in English which did not become a common referent for homosexuals (outside of specific subcultures) until the early 1970s. Another reason that gei bôi was so quickly popularized in Japan is that gei (written in the katakana syllables used to transcribe foreign loanwords) is a homophone for gei (written with the character for 'artistic accomplishment'—as in geisha) and gay boys were sometimes spoken of as gei wo uri, that is 'selling gei.'

In this phrase gei designates not sexual orientation but a kind of artistic performance—female impersonation.

The long tradition of depicting homosexual and, from a Western perspective, gender non-normative acts and figures, is still alive and well today in Japanese culture. The less politicized nature of sexuality, particularly homosexuality, in Japan has meant that these representations are less segregated than in the West and are enjoyed by a broader audience.

Since gei had such strong transgender connotations, it was not used in the immediate postwar period as a site of identity for masculine-identified men who liked other masculine men—instead homo (a contraction of homosekushyaru) was the most common referent for such men. From the 1960s, the term homo bâ, as opposed to gei bâ , was used to designate bars that catered exclusively to homosexual men and homo came to designate men with homosexual tastes but who were otherwise gender-normative. Indeed, even today, it is possible to find bar owners in Japan who insist that their establishments be designated homo bâ because the term 'gay bar' still conjures up images of cross-dressing.

Yet, even homo was not much used as a site of identification. Instead, in the immediate postwar period, men interested in sexual interaction with other men tended to refer to each other in terms of sexual 'type'— that is, sexual identity, such as it existed, revolved around sexual roles, much as it had done in the prewar period. In the argot of the time these types included tachi or tops, onê from onesan or big sister) for effeminate men, donten or 'reversible' boys who serviced both men and women, chigoka( Chigo is a term deriving from the Edo Period (1600-1857) nanshoku code of male-male eroticism. It originally designated a young temple acolyte but came to be used to refer the younger partner in a transgenerational homosexual relationship. Ka here is a suffix meaning 'specialist) or older men interested in youths, jibika( Jibika here is made up of the characters for ear and nose as in the medical 'ear, nose and throat specialist'. Perhaps an ironic reference to the fact that older men were sometimes hard of hearing. Another term was fukesen or 'specialists (in older men') who preferred older partners and ritsu(Ritsu means a rate or percentage) or 'gold diggers' who were in search of a sponsor.

Hence, the cultural context in which these early 'gay' artists were working was extremely complex and quite different from the nascent gay communities in places such as New York or San Francisco. The magazines in which they published were not directed at a distinct homosexual readership but offered information about a wide range of 'perverse' sexuality—with a strong emphasis on sadomasochism. Also, the homosexual world itself was split between masculine and transgender models wherein an individual's 'identity' relied more upon his preferred role as opposed to an imminent sensibility.

However, there have been complaints from Japan's growing number of gay rights activists that images of homosexuality in the media serve only to parody and distort real gay life.

Post World War II Art

This illustration by Oda Toshimi in Fuzoku Kitan is an example of the ‘perverse’ nature of these early magazines, mixing sadomasochism, voyeurism and homoeroticism in the one image.

It is not until after World War II that art that might be understood as "gay" in the Western sense developed.

At this time, a boom in publishing took place and a number of erotic titles became available. Known as hentai zasshi (or "perverse magazines") they featured lurid tales and illustrations of a wide range of "paraphilias" including bestiality, pedophilia, bondage and both male and female homosexuality.

Homosexuality was a much more visible feature of Japan's postwar culture than it was in Anglophone societies but it is difficult to give a satisfactory account of this period using contemporary models of gay identity. While the 1950s in the US and elsewhere saw the return to more restrictive models of sex and gender behavior, after the war, the Allied Occupation in Japan removed many of the restrictions on publishing that had stifled the press in Japan during its fifteen years of militarism.

Concerned more with monitoring political than sexual discussion, the new administration made it possible for a new kind of publication to emerge in Japan in which 'perverse' sexuality could be represented outside of the pathologising framework that had limited its expression before the war and which still constrained discussion of homosexuality in the English press.

From the early 1950s, a range of magazines appeared in Japanese that allowed readers to indulge their interest in sexual perversity and often it was those considered perverse and not medical or other 'experts', who were able to speak. These publications had an extremely wide range of interests and, purporting to offer true accounts, drew upon anecdotes from Japan's feudal past as well as stories from European and Asian societies, often relying on anthropological reports. Significantly, these early magazines did not segregate the material into hetero- or homosexual-themed issues, as became increasingly common in the 1970s, but presented a wide range of 'perverse desires' [hentai seiyoku].

Other magazines which included information about homosexual and transgender phenomena included Fûzoku kagaku [Sex-customs science] (1953-55), Fûzoku zôshi [Sex-customs storybook] (1953-4) and Ura mado [Rear window] (1957-65). While all these magazines featured articles and illustrations relating to male homosexuality, as Tagame points out, it was Fûzoku kitan [Strange talk about the sex world] (1960-1974) which showed the strongest interest in this topic and which featured the homosexual erotic art work of four of the artists introduced in Tagame's collection—Okawa Tatsuji, Funayama Sanshi, Mishima Go and Hirano Go.

The most long lived was Kitan kurabu [Strange-talk club] published between 1950 and 1975 which, albeit mainly focusing on SM, included discussions and illustrations of a range of 'queer' [katayaburi] topics including homosexuality and male and female cross-dressing.However, given the nature of publications such as Fûzoku kitan which focused on a wide range of perverse desires, with a particular emphasis on sadomasochism, the use of the term 'gay' to describe these images seems anachronistic in this context, especially given the violent and sadomasochistic contexts in which the artists placed their figures. The problem with the term gay or gei in katakana transliteration is that it was already in wide use in Japanese in the 1950s but it had a meaning quite different from the English term which was gradually emerging in the US as the most widespread designation for members of the homosexual subculture.

One such magazine, Fuzoku kitan ("Strange Stories of the Sex World"), featured the work of Go Mishima
(1921-1989), who drew pictures of naked, sexually aroused men in a variety of bondage/discipline sadomasochistic situations and whose work has been exhibited in New York and published in the American S/M magazine Drummer.

Mishima (not to be confused with the author Yukio Mishima) went on to have a long career drawing for Japan's gay magazines, the first of which, Barazoku ("Rose Clan"), was published in 1971. Mishima drew images of men entirely unlike the feminine beautiful boys of the earlier tradition, instead focusing upon rough macho types with short hair and tattoos.

This macho style reached its full development in the work of gay artist Gengoroh Tagame (b. 1964) whose sadomasochistic manga (or illustrated novels) have been serialized in a number of Japan's gay magazines, most recently G-Men. There is now an extensive genre of gay manga art created by self-identified gay men in Japan.

However, the most prolific illustrators of male homosexual love scenes are not men but women, and they appear not in the gay press but in manga aimed at a young female audience. It is women manga illustrators and not gay men who have inherited the tradition of depicting "beautiful boys" in homosexual situations.

Meiji period (1868-1912)

'Self Portrait, After Marilyn Monroe', gelatin silver print by Yasumasa Morimura , 1996

During the Meiji period (1868-1912) Japan turned towards the west in an effort to modernize. This meant that aspects of Japanese culture deemed "uncivilized" by the censorious Victorian gaze had to be disposed of. Sexually explicit art in general and homosexual representations in particular went underground. Even the phallic stones that had guarded shrine entrances for generations were hidden away or, in many cases, destroyed.

However, this prudish period in Japanese history, which lasted until Japan's defeat in World War II, encouraged a number of artists to address sexual topics in a more self-consciously political manner. These included the artists of the MAVO group who, in the 1920s, played with gender identity in both their art and their lives, sometimes appearing cross-dressed.

Cross-dressing as a shock tactic has also been taken up by the contemporary artist Yasumasa Morimura who often plays with cross-dressed images of himself in his work.

Religious Art:The Tokugawa Period to World War II

A meeting between a samurai and a kabuki actorIn the Edo period (1600-1868) kabuki actors often doubled as sex workers off stage. This was especially true of those kabuki actors who played female roles, known as onnagata.) Kagema were male prostitutes who worked at specialist brothels called kagemajaya (kagema tea houses). Both kagema and kabuki actors were much sought after by the sophisticates of the day, who often practised nanshoku, or male love.Miyagawa Isshi, ca. 1750; Panel from a series of ten on a shunga-style painted hand scroll (kakemono-e); sumi, colour and gofun on silk. Private collection.

If explicitly homosexual themes first entered Japanese art via Buddhist monasteries, it was in the worldly and sophisticated culture of the towns that these images were most fully elaborated. During the Tokugawa period (1603-1867), castle towns were erected throughout Japan and their samurai occupants, many of whom had been educated in Buddhist monasteries during their youth, carried on the transgenerational homosexual practices characteristic of these establishments.

At this time adult male samurai could establish bonds with young boys of samurai descent who had not yet gone through their coming of age ceremony. Known as wakashudo or "the way of youths," these transgenerational homosexual relationships were subject to a strict code of etiquette and celebrated in works of art and fiction, the most famous being Ihara Saikaku's Great Mirror of Male Love (1687).

“The Great Mirror of Male Love” GO HERE TO READ THE STORY

The towns also supported large numbers of kabuki actors who, since women were banned from the stage, played both male and female roles. Both male players of female roles (onnagata) and the players of youthful male roles (wakashu) were available as passive sexual partners for adult men who could afford their services.
Popular at this time were kabuki guidebooks that contained pictures of the actors and praised their beauty, skill and grace, hinting at the post-performance favors that they also excelled in; some offered not only pictures of the actors' faces but also of their erect penises.

The development of woodblock printing made single sheet posters of these actors available even to men and women (for they were also available for hire to female patrons) of humble means. Saikaku's Great Mirror describes an elderly priest's hermitage in which every inch of the walls has been covered by these early versions of pin-up idols.

Most woodblock artists produced erotic prints known as shunga ("spring pictures") and many of them depict homosexual relations between both men and women. Sometimes, an adult male is depicted in a sexual tryst with both a youth and a woman and sometimes with an onnagata or man dressed as a woman, but the adult male is always depicted as the penetrative partner.

Women are sometimes depicted pleasuring themselves with a dildo or pleasuring both themselves and their female partner with a double-headed dildo. But, since the large majority of woodblock artists were male and their anticipated audience was also largely male, it is difficult to read these images as expressions of lesbian desire. There do not seem to be any representations dating from this time that depict women as partners for women outside this economy of male desire.

Religious Art

Forgive me
Kitagawa Utamaro(1753–1806)Early 1800’s.
Print showing a frustrated man with a young male .
Source: Male Colors, The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan by Gary P. Leupp, University of California Press, 1995.

Further homoerotic images, this time of beautiful temple acolytes, date from the Heian (794-1185) and Kamakura (1185-1333) periods, when Japan was under pervasive Buddhist influence. At this time, Buddhist monasteries had become renowned as sites for homosexual love in which an older priest (nenja) would establish bonds of friendship and love with a child acolyte (chigo).

The representation of youthful male figures as repositories of ideal beauty was facilitated by Buddhist and Shinto myths that taught that women, because of their menstrual cycle, were "defiling" and therefore dangerous to male spiritual practitioners.

In religious painting, the beautiful youth became a central figure, and key religious heroes from the Buddhist pantheon were depicted as beautiful boys. These included Kobo Daishi, founder of the Shingon School (in 806), who reputedly introduced boy love from China; and Monjushiri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, who later became patron saint of male-male love because of the resemblance of the latter part of his name to the Japanese word for "ass" (shiri).

These religious images, in which the youths are depicted with white, powdered moon-like faces, long hair, and dressed in colorful silk, hint at homoeroticism.

It is not until the fourteenth century that we have images depicting unambiguous homosexual interaction. One famous scroll, dated to 1321, is known as the Chigo no soshi or "Chigo notebook" and concerns the relationship between an old abbot and his young acolyte.

Because of his advanced age, the abbot was unable to attain a firm erection and consequently could not penetrate his young lover. Such was the acolyte's devotion, however, that he employed a servant to loosen his anus with unguents and a large dildo in preparation for his nightly visits to the abbot's chambers. The servant's own evident arousal as well as the erection of the youth are clearly portrayed in the scroll.
Unfortunately we do not possess any pictorial or narrative evidence from Japanese Buddhist nunneries that might suggest the development of a parallel genre of female homoeroticism.

Tales, Stories, & Religion

Genji Monogatari “Tale of Genji” dates from this time and contains one of the first known allusions to male love, in which a spurned suitor consoles himself with the younger brother of his beloved:
“Well, you at least must not abandon me. Genji pulled the boy down besides him. The boy was delighted, such were Genji’s youthful charms. Genji for his part, or so one is informed, found the boy more attractive than his chilly sister.”
(Edward C. Seidensticker, trans. 1976, The Tale of Genji, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, p. 48)

Likewise, Ise Monogatari “Tale of Ise”, written in 951, contains a poem from a man separated from his friend:

“I cannot believe that you Are far away For I can Never forget you And thus your face Is always before me.”
(Helen Craig McCullough, trans. 1968, The Tales of Ise, Lyrical Episodes from Tenth-Century Japan, Stanford, Ca., Stanford University Press pp. 101-102)

Afterwards mentions of male love become more and more common. In the 1100’s we see the first mentions of Kukai as the father of nanshoku. Kukai, or as he was known after his death, Kobo Daishi “the great master from Kobo”, was the founder of the Japanese branch of Vajrayana Buddhism, founding the esoteric Shingon school in the year 816 at Mount Koya after his return from China where he received the teachings and transmission from the sixth Patriarch. Great as his religious and linguistic achievements were (he also translated the sacred texts from Chinese into Japanese, and devised the first Japanese alphabet), we have no basis to credit him with the introduction of male love as well. Nonetheless legend has it that he learned about the joys of nanshoku in China (universally renowned from ancient times for its rich homoerotic tradition, ranging from imperial favorites at the court to sanctioned boy-marriages for the commoners) and then implanted the practice in Japan upon his return. Indeed, Mount Koya became synonymous with shudo in the poetry and prose of medieval Japan.(Leupp, 1995, pp. 28-32)

Though the tales ascribing the provenance of shudo to Mt. Koya may be doubtful, the prevalence of that love in Buddhist monasteries is not. In fact, male love in the form of affairs between monks and chigo, their acolytes, predates by many years its incorporation into samurai practice (and was to give rise in later years to a rich homoerotic literature known as chigo monogatari, “acolyte stories”). The Tendai priest Genshin inveighs against those “…who have accosted another’s acolyte and wickedly violated him” in a text printed as early as 985. ( Leupp, 1995,p.31)

Of course we may fairly ask whether he railed at the violation per se, or at the fact that the acolyte was not one’s own. Despite his fulminations, the practice continues unabated, supported by the logic that the monkish vows of chastity apply to the love of the opposite sex only, as expounded by the writer and poet Kitamura Kigin seven hundred years later:

“The Buddha preached that Mount Imose (a metaphor for the love of women) was a place to be avoided, and thus priests of the dharma first entered this way as an outlet for their feelings, since their hearts were, after all, made of neither stone nor wood.”
(Paul Gordon Schalow, trans. 1996, Kitamura Kigin, "Wild Azaleas" (Iwatsutsuji) in Partings at Dawn, an Anthology of Japanese Gay Literature, San Francisco, Gay Sunshine Press p. 103)

In another parallel with Greek culture, the practice of male love spawned a voluminous body of prose, drama, and poetry. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, little has been translated to date, however recent scholarship in gay studies is beginning to make up for past neglect. Besides the work of Kitamura Kigin, who compiled an anthology of male love poetry titled “Rock Azaleas” we also have Ihara Saikaku’s “The Great Mirror of Male Love”, a collection of forty short stories on the subject of love between men and youths, published in 1687. These two titles will have to stand alone as examples of classical Japanese homoerotic literature rendered in English, but hundreds of works remain to be translated, including a great number of kabuki and noh plays.While the history of Japan through the end of the sixteenth century is one of warring feudal lords, with the ascendance of Tokugawa Ieyasu to the shogunate in 1603 the strife came to an end, and the country entered a period of tranquility that was to last two hundred and fifty years. One of the effects of this pacification was the decline in the power and influence of the warrior class. Conversely, the bourgeoisie thrived under the new stability, and began adopting many of the customs and practices that had been the exclusive domain of the samurai. The fighting techniques of the bushi, “warriors”, were adapted as sports or spiritual disciplines (judo, kyudo, kendo, etc.), and the practice of shudo gave way to a culture of traveling boy actors whose favors were vied for (or bought) by hordes of admiring dandies. The public displays of the fans caused such commotion that laws had to be passed restricting the haircuts and costumes of the actors, so as not to over-inflame the passions of the audience. Boy brothels also came to be a common feature of the pleasure districts of the larger towns, and the currency of nanshoku was gradually converted from honor and giri, “duty”, into gold and silver coins.This shift presaged the eventual decline and disappearance of socially sanctioned male love in Japan:

“…the decline of shudo had already begun in the eighteenth century when Japan was still in the middle of its long period of voluntary seclusion. The spirit of shudo as a way’ began to retreat, whereas a sensualist homosexuality flourished more and more. The fact that after the end of the eighteenth century the kagema’ (boy actors) mostly dressed themselves as girls, while during the Genroku period they had dressed themselves gracefully as beautiful young men, also indicates a serious degeneration of the homosexual tradition.”
(Watanabe and Iwata, 1989, p. 121)

Japanese folk religion has long been concerned with fertility and even today there are shrines in the countryside that contain ancient stone phalli as well as enormous phalli carved out of single tree trunks. These phalli show great attention to detail and at festival time are paraded around the village by men dressed only in loincloths.

The homoeroticism of these events has not been lost on present-day Japanese gay men, and Japan's main "naked festivals" (hadaka matsuri) are advertised and reported upon in Japan's gay press; furthermore, festival scenes and props feature in some contemporary gay video pornography.


The Shamisen Player
Miyakawa Choshun(1682–1753)
Individual panel from an erotic painting on silk done at the end of the eighteenth century, reprinted (courtesy of Dr. Richard Lane) in The Love of the Samurai, a Thousand Years of Japanese Homosexuality by Tsuneo Watanabe and Jun’ich Iwata.

In some important aspects the traditions diverged: in Japan the youngster was expected to make the first advance, while the Greeks held that it was proper only for the man to court the youth. Hagakure, “Hidden by Leaves”, Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s famous samurai manual from the early eighteenth century admonishes:

“A young man should test an older man for at least five years, and if he is assured of that person’s intentions, then he too should request the relationship… If the younger man can devote himself and get into the situation for five or six years then it will not be unsuitable.
(William Scott Wilson, trans. 1979. Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure, The Book of the Samurai New York and Tokyo, Kodansha International, p. 58.)

It would appear that this process would have had to start at an early age indeed, since such relationships formally ended at the time of the coming-of-age ceremony, usually around the age of eighteen or nineteen. At that time the youth would receive the tonsure (a cutting of the forelocks to simulate a receding hairline, a symbolic grasp for status in a society in which people to this day compare birth dates in an effort to establish pecking order) and become available in turn for taking the role of the adult in other shudo relationships. As in ancient times however, the partners would usually remain close friends even after the end of the pedagogic/erotic phase, and some of these relationships did not dissolve with the passing of time, becoming instead life-long love affairs.Paradoxically, wakashudo was both integral to the tradition of unqualified devotion that a retainer had to have towards his lord, and at odds with it. Yamamoto Tsunetomo had this to say about the quandary:

“To lay down one’s life for another is the basic principle of nanshoku. If it is not so it becomes a matter of shame. However, then you have nothing left to lay down for your master. It is therefore understood to be both something pleasant and unpleasant."
(William Scott Wilson, trans. 1979. Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure, The Book of the Samurai New York and Tokyo, Kodansha International p. 59)

Samurai shudo had its early beginnings in the Kamakura period in the 1200’s, reached its apogee at the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603 and subsequently declined as the country was unified and the importance of the warrior class diminished. The history of male love in Japan however both predates and outlasts the samurai period. Though its prehistoric origins are invisible to us, written records exist starting with the Heian (Peace and Tranquility) period (794-1185). A time of enlightened rule, this era, marked by the founding of the great imperial capital at Kyoto, saw a flowering of culture and civic life.


Wakashu and Lover Holding Hands
Illustration from the anonymous seventeenth century work Shin-yu-ki, “Book for the Friends of the Soul”.
A wakashu and his lover (nenja) hold hands. From Tsuneo Watanabe and Jun’ichi Iwata, The Love of the Samurai, A Thousand Years of Japanese Homosexuality, Gay Men’s Press, London, 1989.

In its key aspects, wakashudo (often abbreviated to shudo and synonymous with nanshoku, the current term for male love, written with the glyphs for ‘male’ and ‘color’) was an eerily accurate analog of the institution of pederasty which flourished two thousand years earlier in Classical Greece. Like pederasty it was a relationship between an adult man and an adolescent male. Like it, it ended or transformed into platonic friendship as the youth came of age. Like pederasty, it was a pedagogic relationship fired by the energy of mutual erotic attraction. And in like fashion, it was not exclusive of the love of women. Samurai married, though usually later in life, just as the Greek warriors did.

The Japanese as well as the Greeks equated the love between a man and a beardless youth with all that was best in human nature, seeing it at times as the path to such ideals, and at other times as the goal itself. Simonides, in a famous drinking song from the fifth century BCE declares:
“Hear the four best things a man can ask of life: Health unmarred lifelong, beauty of form and act, Honest gain of wealth, and while one is still a boy, To come to brightest bloom among heroic lovers.” (J. Z. Eglinton, trans. 1964, Greek Love, New York, Oliver Layton Press, p. 248)

Those words were to be echoed two thousand years later, on a more Confucian if less exuberant note, by an anonymous writer in 1653, the author of Inu Tsurezure, “A Dog’s Idle Hours”:
“It is natural for a samurai to make every effort to excel with pen and sword. Beyond that, what is important to us is not ever to forget, even to our last moment, the spirit of shudo. If we should forget it, it will not be possible for us to maintain the decencies, nor gentleness of speech, nor the refinements of polite behavior.” (Watanabe and Iwata, 1989, p. 113)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Actors on stage and in bed

Beautiful male youths from poor families often worked as actors, playing female roles on stage in the evening,and female roles in bed the rest of the night.

It seems that since the society has kept women from having any major roles in the culture, that it was only natural for males to express emotion to other males. It also makes sense that the men were young so they would closer resemble women. This is further supported by the notion that they would use makeup and dress these young men in women's clothing.

The decline of shudo started with the westernization of Japan. At the end of the industrial revolution, homosexuality had disappeared from the social realm. Even today, the Japanese only speak of it as a deficiency or a sexual anomaly. This is a direct result of the anti-homosexual society that has been established, as it was in Europe. Modern writers and historians purposely hide this tradition from foreigners, as they do from the Japanese themselves. They have deemed it an ancient dishonor, and a sign of underdevelopment of Japanese society. (Watanabe, Tsuneo - The love of the Samurai: A thousand years of Japanese homosexuality pg 11)

With the introduction of western thought and the Christian ideal of homophobia, no one remembered that at the time of Japan's greatest glory, the traditional Japanese arts of No and Kabuki were homosexual theaters linked with prostitution. That what was called the flower of the samurai spirit and formed the real basis of the samurai aesthetic was shudo, the love of young men. We now understand that it is impossible to understand the traditional civilization of Japan without taking into account these predominant homosexual traditions.
(Watanabe, Tsuneo - The love of the Samurai: A thousand years of Japanese homosexuality pg 130)


Toshiro Mifune, the popular actor famed for his characterizations of quick-witted, taciturn samurai, never uttered a word about it. Akira Kurosawa, the well-known movie director, kept inscrutably mum. Not one of the many hundreds of samurai movies made in the past century even as much as hinted at it nanshoku, the "Love of the Samurai". From its pivotal position in the education, code of honor, and erotic life of the samurai class, the love of youths has sunk below the level of the untouchable to the level of the unmentionable, truly “the love that dare not speak its name”. But the indelible fact remains that one of the fundamental aspects of samurai life was the emotional and sexual bond cultivated between an older warrior and a younger apprentice, a love for which the Japanese have many names, as many perhaps as the Eskimo have for snow.

The samurai often called it bi-do, “the beautiful way”, and guarded the tradition jealously. Ijiri Chusuke, in 1482 argued:
“In our empire of Japan this way flourished from the time of the great master Kobo. In the abbeys of Kyoto and Kamakura, and in the world of the nobles and the warriors, lovers would swear perfect and eternal love relying on no more than their mutual good will. Whether their partners were noble or common, rich or poor, was absolutely of no importance… In all these case they were greatly moved by the spirit of this way. This way must be truly respected, and it must never be permitted to disappear." (Ijiri Chusuke, 1482 "The Essence of Jakudo" in The Love of the Samurai, A Thousand Years of Japanese Homosexuality by Tsuneo Watanabe and Jun’ichi Iwata, 1989, London, The Gay Men’s Press, p. 109)

Known also as wakashudo, “the way of the youth”, it was a practice engaged in by all members of the samurai class, from lowliest warrior to highest lord. Indeed it has been said that it would never have been asked of a daimyo, “lord”, why he took boys as lovers, but why he didn’t. This last is not a question that would have troubled, for example, the three great shoguns who unified Japan, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, or Tokugawa Ieyasu, nor for that matter Miyamoto Musashi, the author of “The Book of Five Rings.”
(Gary P. Leupp, 1995, Male Colors, the Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan, Berkely, The University of California Press, p. 53 )

This tradition greatly flourished in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The samurai deemed boys aged thirteen to nineteen suitable for love. This is called wakashu-do (or shudo for short), which means the way of the youth or more literally, the way of the young men. (Watanabe, Tsuneo - The love of the Samurai: A thousand years of Japanese homosexuality pg 48)

There seems to be definite distinction amongst samurai homosexuality and general homosexuality in Japan. The samurai preferred a young man as supposed to a young boy, and the relationship was between the samurai and his pupil.

In reference to general homosexuality there are also fundamental contradictions. The idea of a negative image of feminism is prevalent, however the notion that they would dress the young boys to resemble young girls contradicts that sentiment entirely. This could be possible due to the patriarchal system, where women were formally banned from public events. According to Gary P. Leupp, he explains "that the prevalence of homosexuality is due to social factors such as the absence of women from monasteries and their scarcity in samurai society and the cities."
(Leupp, Gary P. Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa)

Sarugaku later known as Noh

A popular means of entertainment of the time sarugaku, or "dance of the monkeys" was a theatrical representation of myth or legend. The companies, under the patronage of certain great temples, gave the performances. This theater was thought to be quite vulgar until it became quite favored by the shogun. The companies that performed this were then called the No theater. This theater became known for its beautiful young male actors, who were known to share intimacy with the shoguns and nobles.

Like the No theater, the Kabuki was also a form of entertainment performed by companies on stage. Originally it was women who performed the dance, but they were banned from performing as they were thought to corrupt public morality. It was then young boys, dressed as girls who continued the Kabuki. These two theaters made popular the admiration and love of the adolescent boy. They thought that the face of a young boy to be the ideal of feminine beauty. Both theaters were involved in prostitution of the young males. "Many men were so enchanted by the charms of the young boys that they ended up swearing their eternal love and wounding their arms."The "wounding of their arms" is a strange tradition of two lovers mixing their blood as a sign of their eternal love. Many rich men spent fortunes on these young actors for their love and companionship. (Watanabe, Tsuneo - The love of the Samurai: A thousand years of Japanese homosexuality pg 74)

They got young men to sing and dance, and there were many rich men who were so carried away that they spent mad sums on them and end up in ruin. Their property disappeared as a thin covering of snow melts away beneath the rays of the spring sun. (Watanabe, Tsuneo - The love of the Samurai: A thousand years of Japanese homosexuality pg 82)

The tradition of male on male love was greatly encouraged within the samurai class. It was considered useful to boys in teaching them virtue, honesty and the appreciation of beauty. While at the same time the love of women was often devalued for its so called 'feminising' effect.
"Toshiro Mifune, the popular actor famed for his characterizations of quick-witted, taciturn samurai, never uttered a word about it. Akira Kurosawa, the well-known movie director, kept inscrutably mum. Not one of the many hundreds of samurai movies made in the past century even as much as hinted at it nanshoku, the Love of the samurai. From its pivotal position in the education, code of honor, and erotic life of the samurai class, the love of youths has sunk below the level of the untouchable to the level of the unmentionable, truly "the love that dare not speak its name". But the indelible fact remains that one of the fundamental aspects of samurai life was the emotional and sexual bond cultivated between an older warrior and a younger apprentice, a love for which the Japanese have many names, as many perhaps as the Eskimo have for snow." (The World History of Male Love, Http:// edited by Adrew Kallimachos, 1991 )


One interesting aspect of this tradition, which in turn aided in the spread and popularity of homosexual love in Japan is that of the No and Kabuki theatres. Dating back to the 12th century, under the rule of emperor and despot Shirakawa-In who was particularly fond of homosexual pleasure, the tradition of beautifying their favorite male lovers began. They would paint on false eyelashes, perfume themselves and dress in the same style as young girls. It was said to make the favorites "even more delightful". (The Love of the Samurai: A Thousand Years of Japanese Homosexuality, by Tsuneo Watanabe & Jun'ichi Iwata. GMP Publishers Ltd, London 1989 pg 33)