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The wakashudō 若衆道 or "way of the boys" is the traditional form of pederasty in former Japan, since at least the eighth century. It is used in the same sense as nyakudō shudo 衆道若道, or the terms nanshoku 男色 and Bido 美道.

This emotional and sexual relationship between a male adult and a young boy was originally engaged in by buddhist monks,then by the samurai.Still very much alive in the nineteenth century, it is thought to be the most durable pederastic institution attested in the history of mankind [Citation needed].


The pederasty may be designated in Japanese by rather different terms, which have significant nuances.

The wakashudō

The word wakashudō 若衆道 is the one whose pederastic meaning is the most obvious. It consists of three elements distributed as follows:

The final character, dō 道, means "way". It is the same character in the Chinese word dao, pointing the way along which we progress, moral art to do something to get better personally.

The word Wakashū 若衆 means "young person", or rather "boy": it is indeed never uses that term for a girl. It combines two characters:

waka 若 "young"

shū 衆 "person"

The wakashudō is clearly the "way of the boys."

This word appeared in the seventeenth century is widely used in ancient works. It is often found in the abbreviated forms shudo 衆道, which holds the last two characters of which there are testimonies from 1485 or nyakudō若道, which meets on the first and last character (若may also decide Nyaku).

The nanshoku

The word nanshoku男色(which also reads danshoku) takes Chinese characters nán男"man" and sè色"color", which together literally means "masculine colors."

The character 色 "color" refers more particularly the red color of the face, so the excitement. By derivation, it means in Japan and China on sexual pleasure .

The nanshoku term can be understood as the "manly lust" or "lechery between males". It was widely used in the pre-modern period to name the pederastic sex, or possibly homosexual .

The Bido

Also found in a neighboring word meaning Bido美道, "beautiful way", which unites the two character美"beautiful" to dō道"way". This is somehow the "way of the fine" - a美少年bishōnen is a "beautiful boy".

In short, more reminiscent nanshoku pleasure, passion, virility; while wakashudō and our refers to a choice philosophical and search for wisdom focuses on young boys.

Boy age

A samurai and his young disciple (shudo tale, 1661)

In the pre-modern Japan, one considered a boy as available for pederastic relationships only during the time he was Wakashū . This period began at the age when the head should be shaved partially (maegami) between five and ten years: while the boy leaves the child and can begin studies, an apprenticeship , or take a job outside the family home.The status of Wakashū ended at the majority ceremony(Genpuku), which marked the transition to adulthood: it usually occured during the teenage years .

Throughout this period, the Wakashū sported a distinctive hairstyle, with a small part of his shaved skull and hair above the forehead and sides. Moreover, he generally carried a kimono with open sleeves. After the majority ceremony,by contrast, the top of the head was shaved,giving an adult style (chonmage), and the young man had to wear adult kimono with rounded sleeves.

Originally the Genpuku was sitting between eleven and seventeen. But gradually this limit was pushed between fifteen and twenty years. It could even happen that the ceremony be delayed beyond socially acceptable limits, to maintain the possibility of wakashudō type of link, or, in the case of young prostitutes,to extend their availability. These excesses led in 1685 to the adoption of a law requiring all Wakashū go through this ceremony later at the age of twenty-five years.

Although young people were thus clearly divided into three categories - child and adult Wakashū - ages defining the passage from one to the other had always been relatively flexible, allowing to adapt to the actual development,both physical and psychological, of the boy.

In a treatise of the seventeenth century, Ishikawa no Soshi [2] states that the partner liability of wakashudō usually lay between seven and twenty-five years -with an average age of sixteen;that seems to have been most appreciated.

One might think that a young Japanese of old, because of his ethnic characteristics and a less abundant nutrition than today,kept a youthful appearance longer than a young european presently does On the other hand, a sort of platonic court for several years -around five or six usually - was often recommended prior to consuming the union to ensure the right choice of the partner and the strength of the link: the little boy seven years could sometimes wait up to twelve or thirteen years to take such a step.

In Wakashū no haru ("Spring boys"), there is this saying that restricts the desirable range - but the median age remains at sixteen:

" From eleven to fourteen years the boy is a burgeoning flower; from fourteen to eighteen is a flourishing flower; and nineteen to twenty-two is drooping flower. »

Japanese and Greek pederasty Wakashudō

The similarities between wakashudō and greek pederasty are numerous:

Romantic relationships were within the framework of elitist education.

They were structured according to a difference in age and status.

Only the man was sexually active .

In general intercourse ceased when the youngest became adult.

These pederastic relationships did not exclude heterosexual relationships nor marriage .

However, significant differences exist between the Japanese institution and its Greek equivalent:

Historically, wakashudō began with concern the monks and their novices, before moving to the samurai; conversely, the Greek pederasty was primarily a warrior initiation,then by the myths religious and philosophical backgrounds.

The initiative in Greece was still the fact of the adult, unlike samurai apprentices who proposed their future master lover .

When there was exchange of vows,the relationship was monogamous wakashudō principle, which was not necessarily the case in Greece (especially Crete , where a boy was honored to have several lovers).

The man-boy relationships in Japan were very overtly sexual, while the Greeks were often more discreet or less approvers on this point.

The anal is quite allowed in respect of the young Japanese, unlike the Greeks who were satisfied in general the intercrural coitus .

Finally, in the traditional Japanese concepts of pederasty and homosexuality are certainly close, but clearly distinct; Greece, on the contrary, homosexuality between adults was seen as a variant of pederasty.


Ihara Saikaku [3]井原西鶴or Saikaku ( 1642 - 1693 ): nanshoku Okagami男色大鏡(The Great Mirror of Male Love), 1689 .


"Nanshoku: male-male eroticism in Japan", in Koinos Magazine, nr 40 (April 2003) and nr 41 (January 2004 /).

Pflugfelder, Gregory M. Cartographies of desire: male-male sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600-1950. - Berkerley: University of California Press, 2000.

[Ihara Saikaku] Saïkakou Ebara. Tales of love samurai / trans. Ken Sato; Patrick Raynaud drawings. - Jacques Damase, 1981.

7 stories of samurai and 4 stories of actors, from the glorious stories of pederasty, Stories of the samurai spirit Stories duties of samurai and letters in Stories.

Ihara Saikaku. Amours samurai / trans. Japanese and presented by Gérard Siary; with the collab. Mieko Nakajima-Siary. - Arles: Philippe Picquier 1999 (Aubenas Print Lienhart.). - 250 p. : Ill., Cov. Fig. col. ; 21 cm. - (The great mirror of male love: love custom boy in our country; 1) (Pavilion curious body ISSN 1274-9508).

Trad. of the 1st part: nanshoku Okagami. - Includes bibliographical references. p. 59-65. - ISBN 2-87730-451-5 (br.)

Ihara Saikaku. Amours actors / trans. Japanese and presented by Gérard Siary; with the collab. Mieko Nakajima-Siary. - Arles: Philippe Picquier, 2000 (Gemenos Print Robert.). - 217 p. : Map, cov. Fig. col. ; 21 cm. - (The great mirror of male love: love custom boy in our country, 2) (Pavilion curious body ISSN 1274-9508).

Trad. the 2nd part: nanshoku Okagami. - Glossary. - ISBN 2-87730-469-8 (br.)

Tsuneo Watanabe, Jun'ichi Iwata The way of youths. History and stories of homosexuality in Japan. - Ed. Trismegistus, 1987. - (Eastern Sexuality).

ISBN 2-86509-024-8

Related articles

External links

Manfred Lesgourgues conference during the Japan Week ENS, recorded by France-Culture April 28, 2011: " nanshoku: pederasty samurai . "

Notes and references

↑ Do not confuse the word Wakashū若衆"young person, boy," two characters with Wakashū和歌集"collection of Japanese poems," which includes three wa和"Japanese style" + ka歌"poem" + shū集"reunion gathering." This term appears in the title of several classic anthologies.