A youth entertains an older male lover, covering his eyes while surreptitiously kissing a girl servant (ca. 1716–1735). Japanese woodblock print by Nishikawa Sukenobu.
From Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan by Gary P. Leupp (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995). Footnote omitted.
Note: The play in question was written at a time when Japan followed the East Asian age reckoning, by which a person is considered to be one year old at birth, with age being incremented at the beginning of the lunar or solar year.
One episode in the kabuki play Narukami Fudō Kitayama zakura (Kitayama cherry-blossoms of Narukami and Fudō, 1742), by Tsuuchi Hanjurō, Yasuda Abun, and Nakada Mansuke, nicely illustrates the bisexual tastes expected of the robustly amorous, swashbuckling rōnin (masterless samurai). The hero, Danjirō, lingers in an antechamber awaiting an audience with a lord. Retainers of the household come to attend him. First Hidetarō, a delicate boy of twelve or thirteen, enters to offer him tobacco. A delighted Danjirō compliments him on his beauty and asks about the progress of his martial training. The boy replies that he has been studying archery but has not yet learned to ride a horse.
Danjirō thereupon offers to instruct Hidetarō in horseback riding. When the boy enthusiastically accepts the offer, the stalwart squeezes the boy between his thighs, explaining, “Press tightly against the flanks of your mount, thus.”
Embracing the boy, he rocks him back and forth suggestively, but when he attempts a kiss, Hidetarō panics and runs off. Danjirō laughs, bows to the audience, and facetiously pronounces his own conduct “shameful.”
Next a woman of the house arrives with tea. Danjirō badgers her as well, making several vulgar jokes that play on the slang use of the term “tea” to refer to sex with a prostitute. She, too, abandons him in disgust while he faces the audience and quips, “That’s two cups of tea I’ve been denied!”
Clearly, this samurai hero is equally amenable to having sex with boys or with women. So too, apparently, were many commoners, particularly the young libertines glamorized in much of Tokugawa popular literature.
-type tryst between a samurai and a boyfriend. Panel from Spring Pastimes
(ca. 1750), a series of ten homoerotic
scenes by Miyagawa Isshō. Shunga
-style painted hand scroll (kakemono-e
, color and gofun
on silk. Private collection.