Homosexuality in Japan’s Edo Period

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Japan’s Edo period, stretching from the 17th to 19th century, was characterized by economic growth and a rigid social order, both of which worked together to bolster a before unrealized interest in art, culture, entertainment and, yes, sex.

While most marriages at the time were arranged — and between a man and a woman — sex between two men was not at all uncommon, though often kept out of public view. For the most part, such erotic encounters were allocated to three spheres: red-light style pleasure districts, kabuki theater, and shunga, or erotic art.

Artistic representations of erotic encounters between two men, known as nanshoku, are harder to find in the annals of shunga prints than images of sexually skilled octopi. However, a wildly rare shunga handscroll by artist Miyagawa Choshun, which has been shielded from public view since the 1970s, depicting man-on-man loving, has been recently rediscovered by Bonhams auction house.

“In the strictly regulated society of Edo period Japan, it was not unusual for people to yearn for circumstances and opportunities not afforded them by birth,” Bonhams’ Director of Japanese Art Jeff Olson said in a press statement. “For most, costly visits to the pleasure quarters were out of reach, so illustrated erotica was the next best thing.”

While most shunga prints frame the genitals front and center, nanshoku works focus more on the tender romance of the relationship. Think of them as the soft-core alternative to hardcore porn. The pairings normally consist of an older man and a younger partner, dressed in an ornate kimono and traditional woman’s hairstyle. Artistic depictions often muse on the luxurious details of the young lover’s garments and appearance.

Choshun’s striking handscrolls are at once minimalist in their color-blocked elegance and grandiose in their detailed renderings of kimonos and tricky-looking sexual positions. The lovers are rendered in a gold-tinted, floating world, swallowed up by the fantasy of their own desires.

This article is from the Huffington Post, though slightly edited. To see more of these depictions of Japanese gay erotica (though I’ll be honest, they don’t look too gay to me), you can feast your eyes on these delightfully rare, 17th-century Japanese gay erotica at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/feast-your-eyes-on-these-rare-17th-century-handscrolls-of-japanese-gay-erotica_us_56ec35bfe4b03a640a6a53d5

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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