three pairs of lovers with space



Of all the countries where Greek love flourished, for over a thousand years Japan was probably the one most similar to ancient Greece herself, in that one may say it was widely practised in three ways: at one extreme, in a highly romantic and idealised form (between boys and samurai or monks devoted to bringing out the best in their boys); at the other extreme, boy prostitution was widespread; and in between, as neither idealistic nor commercial, but as a commonplace consequence of the ordinary man and boy's search for physical love. Examples follow of all three.

The commonest early form of Greek love in Japan was that practised by Buddhist monks and their chigo or boy acolytes. The early 14th-century story Kannon's Manifestation as a Youth, in which divine intervention helped a monk in his longing for a boy, illustrates the indulgence towards sex with boys that was a special Japanese exception to the usual Buddhist insistence on full celibacy.

Ihara Saikaku's book The Life of an Amorous Man (1682), was the fictional biographer of a libertine who had liaisons with boys as well as women, and shows how, as in other societies where pederasty was ubiquitous, it was seen as entirely unremarkable for a man to want sex with both women and boys.

         A man pedicating a boy, by Suzuki Harunobu ca. 1750

The greatest single source of our knowledge of wakashudō, the Japanese "way of loving boys", is Saikaku's later work, The Great Mirror of Male Love (1687), a compilation of forty short stories, of which four love stories between boys and samurai are reproduced here: Within the Fence: Pine, Maple and a Willow Waist, Love Letter Sent in a Sea BassThough Bearing an Umbrella, He Was Rained Upon and Tortured to Death with Snow on His Sleeve.The second at least of these is based on a true story.  Together, they demonstrate the most remarkable features of wakashudō, the qualities that show it have been more harmonious in practise than Greek pederasty.  While both forms of boy-love stressed its greater compatibility with superior, masculine values, the Greeks seem to have felt unhappily that boys' masculinity was compromised by their enjoying the passive sexual role, as discussed in the essay Did the Greeks pedicate their loved boys? Hence Greek boys were ideally imagined as never enjoying sex with their lovers to whom they gave in to delicately-depicted love-making only after the latter had proven the non-sexual benefits of the hoped-for relationships through protracted courtship. In contrast, Japanese boys could and often did initiate their love affairs, evidently with full social approval, showing spontaneity and passion even while everyone assumed as a matter of course that this meant their being pedicated by their lovers.

Saikaku's Tales of Samurai Honour (1688), twenty-six tales he had heard illustrating the samurai code of honour, also included three in which Greek love was the main theme, the last of which was A Boy's Beauty Flowers When His Forelock Is Unshaven.

In The age of the loved boy in traditional Japan detailed analysis by five leading scholars from the primary sources is given on this question essential to understanding the character of Greek love in general.

Though the history of wakashudō stretches back centuries before the Edo period of Japanese history, 1603 to 1868, the latter was both its heyday and its finale. Together with the samurai and much of traditional Japanese culture, wakashudō, especially in its idealistic form, rapidly fell victim to the radical modernisation that followed the Meiji restoration in 1868.

An Anglo-Japanese love story is English journalist Michael Davidson's two accounts of the greatest love affair of his life, with fifteen-year-old "Keibo" in Tokyo in 1950-1. These suggest considerable tolerance survived eighty years after the Meiji reforms, at least compared with the situation in the foreign countries that had inspired them.

An account of boy prostitution in Japan is taken from Boys for Sale by Drew and Drake (1969). It is not clear quite how up-to-date this report was, but it suggests the demise of wakashudō as an ideal had little impact on the supply and demand for boys for commercial sex that had always co-existed with it.