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Nanshoku-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); sumi, color and gofun on silk. Private collection.

Nenja (念者, "lover" or "admirer"), in premodern Japan, was a term applied to the older and sexually active male partner involved in a homoerotic relationship with a wakashū (若衆, "youth"), a sexually passive adolescent boy, in the context of the historical practice of shudō (衆道, "the way of youths"), also known as nanshoku (男色, "male love"), which was customary among members of the Buddhist clergy and of the samurai nobility, and later adopted by some individuals of the wealthy merchant class.[1]

The sense of the word can be rendered as "a person who thinks of a particular youth", the character nen (念) being of difficult translation, as its meaning falls somewhere between rational "thinking" and emotive "feeling". Unlike the term wakashū, its counterpart nenja had no age signifier, although it was expected in principle that the lover would be older than his beloved.[2]


  1. Gary P. Leupp, Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 56–57 and 61.
  2. Gregory M. Pflugfelder, Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600–1950 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), p. 36.

See also