Cross dressing in theatre and on TV is nothing new in Japan. Indeed popular culture is seeing a kind of gay (LGBT) renaissance through the increased amount of TV talent that are either gay or pretend to be gay. Japanese tolerate this on TV but there is still a long way to go towards total acceptance of gay culture in Japan, where a gay individual doesn’t have to fear discrimination at the work place or in a social setting. Conservatives in Japan aping their religious brethren overseas condemn the gay lifestyle and strive to return to an era where gay lifestyle in Japan was firmly in the closet. But was it always like this in Japan?
Much like the Sparta warriors of ancient Greece, Japanese warrior samurai encouraged homosexuality.
In Sparta it was encouraged as a way to enforce courage, as a warrior would never turn from battle in front of his lover. In Japan it was more to do with the mentor student relationship where an old man would take an apprentice as a lover.
Called Shudo (衆道) it was common in the samurai society from the medieval period until the end of the 19th century.
This is shown in the book, Comrade loves of the Samurai by Ihara Saikaku which is collection of poems and stories about gay love in traditional Japan. Ihari Saikakku (1642-93) was one of the most illustrious writers of Japan’s seventeenth century literary revival who often wrote about love across all Japanese social stratas. In another book Genji Monogatari (源氏物語, 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 certain lady, and instead sleeps with her younger brother.
Other sources including ancient diary entries back the fact that homosexuality existed in Japan.
However there is a huge cultural gap as in ancient Japan, and in a lesser part even today in Japan, sex is not viewed in terms of morality but rather in terms of pleasure. So where a man might take part in a homosexual act he is not automatically seen as gay (LGBT), just taking part in a gay act. Talk to the older gay men in Tokyo and this attitude still exists where men will have a wife and family but for pleasure will visit the gay district to hang out with like minded individuals.
So again, Japanese conservative beliefs are just the beliefs of foreign conservatives with no basis in Japanese culture.
It’s almost like a form of globalization where conservative values of a dominate society are taken up by other cultures. But in regards to conservative Japanese seeking a return to a supposed golden age, they should realize that the values they want to return to aren’t Japanese they’re foreign values that the Japanese people have absorbed.
If you like this then, you should check out more from the “Myths of Japan” series:
|Drugs in Japan Myth||Numerology||Divorce a Japanese Tradition||The American Occupation of Okinawa||Myths of Japan|
“In one scene the hero is rejected by a certain lady, and instead sleeps with her younger brother.”
As you do!!!
“It’s almost like a form of globalization where conservative values of a dominate society are taken up by other cultures.”
I’m not sure its just a matter of absorption of outside ideas though – the anti-homosexuality agenda came along with the rise of the nation-state – I think many societies were like Japan prior to modernization. As you allude to in the article the old way was more permissive toward homosexual acts, but the expectation was that you do your morality duty first and foremost – ie to your biological family (both senior and junior members). I understand this was quite similar to Confucian China as well. But when reproduction became part of the nation-state’s mandate in a lot of countries that previously permitted or at least didn’t concern themselves with the existence of homosexual acts, heterosexuality was upheld as absolute moral value – ie lots of hetero-shagging = larger population, more resources for war, rich nation, strong army etc etc. I suspect that, along with Christian values, is why Euro-American countries who entered the nation-state period earliest have seen to be conservative on the homosexuality issue for longer.
Doesn’t Shinjuku have a now sizeable gay population, or lots of gay bars? I seem to remember reading somewhere that it was once known for Yakuza and is now known for homosexuality.
Tokyo’s gay district is in Shinjuku. It’s called Ni-Chome but it has been there for decades.