Gay History of Japan
“(I) loved your fingers, hands, arms, chest, cheeks, eyes, tongue and legs. I was in love with you.”
This sentence was part of a school report that appearsin a novel called “Shonen” by Yasunari Kawabata, a Japanese writer who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in the early 20th century.The protagonist was 19 years old when he wrote those lines to express how he loved his lover, a boy student.Kawabata Yasuyari later confessed that this novel was somewhat autobiographical.
According to Yasunari Kawabata, when he submitted the actual report that included those lines in school, his teacher helped him improve his writing techniques, but never offered any criticism about the content.Simply said, Japan is a place where heterosexual relationships and homosexual relationships have and continue to coexist.
Gay culture in Japan can be traced to an aristocrat’s dairy called “Ouki” written by Sanesuke Fujiwarano more than a thousand years ago and in the “Tale of Genji”, which is a classic work of Japanese literature attributed to the Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the early eleventh century and is often referred to as the world’s first novel.
One aristocrats wrote this rather straightforward comment in his diary, “I woke up with a hard penis having had a dream of sleeping with a son of a cabinet minister in a room at the palace while I was on night duty at the palace.”
Hikaru Genji, the protagonist of the “Tale of Genji” was often praised by other men saying they were enraptured with his beauty. At the same time, Hikaru Genji was planning to seduce a married woman, and planned to ask her brother to be their love cupid. In the process, Hikaru Genji became very close to the brother because he was a smart and beautiful boy.Though the novel does not state directly that there was a physical relationship between Hikaru Genji and the brother, there are several passages that imply that there was.
Diaries of that eras were not intended to be private. They were written assuming someone would read them.Because homosexual love relationships were written without hesitation in novels and diaries meant for public eyes, we can presume that at that time homosexual love relationships existed and were recognized as one of love relationships within the aristocrat class.
In Japanese history, homosexual love relationships seem to have flourished the most during the Age of Civil Wars between the middle of the 15th century and the middle of the 16th century. At that time, carrying on the family name was one of the most important tasks for warriors, so having a wife and children was a duty for them. At the same time, solders at the battle field hungered for the “fellow-love feelings” between men.
During the Age of Civil Wars, homosexual love relationships tended to start between a master and servant, attendant, or follower. In addition, many servants, who shared the same master, developed friendships which expanded into love relationships that lasted their life time.
One of the most well-known and significant homosexual love relations during the Age of Civil Wars was the relationship between Shingen Takeda, the leader and warlord in the area now known as Yamanashi prefecture area around the beginning to late 16th century and Danzyo Kosaka, one of his followers. Shingen Takeda was attracted to Danzyo Kosaka’s beauty and amazed by his intelligence.
One day, the master, Shingen Takeda accused Danzyo Kosaka of having relations with another young warrior. However Shingen Takeda soon apologized to Danzyo Kosaka about accusing him without thinking straight and told him: “You are the only one I love.” The written documentation of this is stored in a reference room at Tokyo University, the most prestigious university in Japan.
As noted above, homosexual love relations, especially male to male homosexual love relationships often flourished during the Age of Civil Wars. However, more examples of homosexual love relations are evident during the Edo era from 17th century to 19th century.
During Edo period, homosexual love relations expanded to include “brotherhood relations” in addition to the master and servant relations.Brotherhood relations were created by non-related males at a young age that grew up together and lived their adult life together.
Ever since the Age of Civil Wars, men felt thatwomen existed for the purpose of producing children. Regardless of social status, most of daily life was segregated by sex. This was particularly true in the warrior class where males and females were strictly separated. Schools for warriors’ sons were established in each local domain throughout Japan. The young sons of warriors lived in an environment where they would hang out, study, and learn martial arts together. It was very natural for them to develop “brotherhood relations.”
It was not a surprising for young boys in the same age group to develop love feelings towards each other when they were in such a confined environment where they spent all their time together. Often they experienced sexual relations with other boys before they experienced it with girls.
During the Meiji period, from the end of 19th century to the early 20th century, homosexual relations flourished among school students; and in some circles the practice of homosexual love relations was elevated and treated with awe. Homosexual actsby definition excluded the animal instinct to produce offspring and were therefore of a higher plane. Many students supported this philosophy and expanded it to see a person who would seek same sex companionship as having a very advanced mind as a human being.
Yasunari Kawabata, whose love letter that was mentioned above, was also one of the students who were strongly influenced by the idea of homosexuality as a sublime act. Other novelists who lived during that era also wrote about homosexuality.
Even into the modern era, positive images of homosexuality appear in the writings of novelists; specifically Yukio Mishima and Kenzaburo Ooe, who are well known writers in Japan and overseas.
Additionally, the expectation that sons will get married and carry on the family name remains strong in Japan today. Therefore, there are many more varieties of gay relationships than may be considered to be the norm in other countries.