BOY-LOVE IN JAPAN 1965-90
Presented here are two articles about boy-love in Japan published in 1990. However, the first is largely the writer’s reminiscences of the years 1965-69, while the second is about the state of affairs in 1990.
Angels of the Public Bathhouse by Takafumi Kovido
This article is from the July 1990 issue of Barazoku, the first and perhaps then the most popular Japanese homosexual magazine. The translation is by Kevin Charles in the NAMBLA Bulletin, Volume XI, No. 7, October 1990, pp. 12-13.
These days, especially in Tokyo, public baths are being rebuilt as commercial buildings and dropping out of sight.
Back in the mid-1960s, when I began my life as a university student, however, there were many public baths even in the middle of Tokyo. I was admitted to a university in 1965, after a year as a ronin, a masterless samurai, a young man without a school or a job to belong to. Raised in the countryside where there were no public baths, I was attended a cram school for a year, living alone in a tiny dump of a student apartment in the Yamanote residential district of central Tokyo.
The monotonous study for examinations left me fighting my sexual drive. Since a guy needs only to lower his zipper to jerk off, no matter what I did, I found my frequency increasing. Each time I would swear, “No I won't do it anymore.” But after a little while that head would pop up again, and I ended up repeating five or six times a day that shameful solitary act.
What I visualized at those times were the naked bodies of boys whose pubic hair had not yet fully sprouted. I had been addicted to that secret act from when I was a boy, even before my semen came out.
There was a public bath right by my apartment. Since there were no public baths in the countryside, it was unnerving to be naked in front of other people. But I braced myself and went in. It was a naked, naked, naked world.
Even though I saw cute elementary students and middle-school on the streets, their white thighs bared from their shorts, the most I could do was look back and imagine. But the public bath is a different world, one in which you can see cute boys strip and leave nothing to your imagination. I paid no attention to the big things and waited for a boy to come in.
The age most erotic to me is when the signs of hair are just beginning to show, from about sixth to eighth grade.
Yamanote boys have a certain grace. To be able to see all of the object of one's love up close is a special prerogative of boy-love.
Those fire-skinned, graceful boys would strip to the last layer and proceed to the washing area. The more they tried to conceal their private parts, the greater my pleasure became in stealing a glance.
In the washing area, there is a long mirror above the tiles to which the faucet is attached, but between the mirror and the wall is a small opening through which you can see the opposite person’s crotch perfectly.
I would manage to sit across from a boy and receive the privilege of watching him through the opening.
The object on a boy’s still-smooth abdomen is indisputable a work of art. Around the base of a six-centimeter-or-so (not too large, not too small) cock with a cute foreskin, I’d discover something like a dark fuzz. Around seventh or eighth grade, his sexual development is about to make its sudden arrival.
Whether he knows about jerking off yet or not I’m not sure, but he rubs the soap on his genitals and washes very carefully. He bends forward and washes his body, and then I can see everything, including his butthole.
The public bath was heaven to me, and I always went during the most crowded time of day. When no boys were there, I waited as long as two hours. Then I would go back to my apartment and indulge in the secret act, calling to mind the naked bodies of that night’s boys.
Imagining the shame of the boys, I amused myself. Thus, wishing to be the same as a boy, I’m still uncircumcised.
And so I somehow won the fierce battle (an endless cycle of pleasure followed by regret) in my apartment and passed the university entrance exams. I spent my four years in university in tiny student apartments, and, while I moved several times, I kept going to a public bath. And so I got to see the naked bodies of quite a number of angels. Beauties bending forward bashfully and coming into the bathtub, hands joined to hide the area around the crotch. A boy with a perfect body hiding nothing, getting out of the bathtub, his cock standing up every time. A middle-school student whose entire course from sprouting of hair to a total black covering I was able to observe.
At that time, when briefs were just arriving on the market, a boy wearing only a pair of briefs after his bath was also beautiful.
All this has become part of the distant past. Now there is probably no such enjoyment to be found at the public bath.
I will keep the beautiful boys’ naked bodies in my memory forever. Every time I see a charming boy on the street, I end up superimposing on him the figure of one of the boys of that distant time.
Translator’s comment: The writer is probably married and completely closeted, and celibate with respect to boys. While indeed there are fewer users now, as most new housing has a private bath installed, “such enjoyment” is still found at public baths.)
Japanese Media Sends a Message by R.S.
This brief article in the same October 1990 issue of the NAMBLA Bulletin (XI 7 10) as the foregoing translation was given as an introduction to the subject of boy-love in Japan and explains the then most recent situation.
These ads give some indication of how man/boy love is treated in Japan. They ran in Popeye, a fashion magazine aimed at guys from 16 to 30. The caption on one reads:
When you are with someone you like,
Life is happy.
Even should it rain, even should storms appear,
You are happy.
The other says:
If you are with someone you like,
Whatever you do makes you happy.
Even if you fight even if the tears flow
You are happy.
Man/boy relationships are acknowledged and easily tolerated in Japan. Boys who are not interested in it just ignore it, but those who are interested freely fantasize and many, from junior high school onwards, try to pursue their interests. They often feel free to discuss these feelings with their best friends. For some young men, this sort of relationship is considered quite chic. If confronted by it, both individuals and society at large might denounce it, but if it isn’t made an issue, it’s neither condemned nor railed against.