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three pairs of lovers with space



The anonymous mediaeval hand scroll eventually given the title Chigo no sōshi 稚児之草紙 (A Book of Acolytes) is possibly Japan’s very oldest surviving shunga (erotic art), as well as the best-known of the Chigo monogatari  (Tales of Acolytes), late mediaeval, erotic stories about monks and their chigos (boy acolytes aged between about ten and about seventeen[1]), a sub-genre of Japanese fiction of the 14th to 16th centuries.

It consists of five saucy, short stories about Buddhists priests and chigos with erotic illustrations that do not strictly follow the main text, but have their own explanatory captions and even conversations. Every one of the five concerns an acolyte who takes pity on a monk who has fallen in love with him and allows the latter to relieve his suffering by pedicating him.

The whereabouts of the original is unknown, but copies are known to exist, of which the one held in the Daigo-ji Treasure House at Sambō-in Temple south of Kyoto bears a colophon saying it had been copied in 1321,[2] implying the original stories, whether fictitious or not, are older still.

The first and longest of the stories is the only one to have been translated into English, namely by Gary Leupp in his Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan (California, 1997) pp. 44-45, from which the following is taken. His translation includes the dialogues presented here as captions to the first two illustrations.

For the remaining four stories, only brief synopses are presented, taken from an article by Paul S. Atkins, Chigo in the Medieval Japanese Imagination”, published in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Aug. 2008), pp. 950-951. He comments on them:

Sexual attraction fueled the establishment and maintenance of what one might term the chigo "system" (chigo-sei), and anal penetration of the chigo by his master was its highest "ritual." The element of transgression is significant in these fantasies. None of them depict sex between a chigo and his master; in all cases, the sex occurs between the chigo and an admirer or other type of proxy. While the chigo owes his loyalty and subservience to his master, another man intervenes to supplant the master, effectively cuckolding him, and to assert his physical dominance over the master as well as the chigo, who typically remains blasé with regard to the action taking place, emotionally removed in a posture of remote beauty.

A priest pedicating a chigo (19th-century manuscript of the Chigo no sōshi in the British Museum)

All the illustrations presented here are all from manuscripts of the Chigo no sōshi in Japan and the British Museum. The first two are taken from published photos of an Edo-period copy.[3] Those in which the genitals have been blotted out with silver, which come from the printed facsimile of an earlier copy.[4] The illustrations found in the various manuscripts are generally very similar except that the total number varies between sixteen and eighteen. As will be seen, the sex shown is always pedication of the boy by the man, with the exception of two illustrations showing analingus performed on a boy, and fellatio performed on both man and boy.[5]


The first story

I think this occurred just after the Ninnaji [Temple] had been built. There was a venerable priest there, highly revered throughout the world. Influenced by the virtue of the Three Mysteries of the Dharma, his character and the effects of his incantations were renowned. Yet he was unable to abandon this Way [of sex with boys]. Although there were many beautiful youths around him, one in particular would lie with him in the most intimate fashion.

But the ability to perform [sexually] has nothing to do with one's piety. He had apparently indulged too much, and so could not perform sexually to the extent he would have liked. In his heart, he yearned to [have intercourse with the youth] in the manner that the arrow of Shinto pierces the roofed mud wall. But his [penis] was like an arrow just brushing against the mountain [of the boy's buttocks]; penetration was out of the question.

The boy, saddened by this, diligently prepared [himself] each night. He would summon beforehand a youth named Chuta, the son of his nurse. [Chuta's] penis would still be soft as [his master] had him lubricate a dildo with clove oil and then insert it into his bottom.

[Original captions in the form of dialogue:]

Chuta: This is hard to endure. You don't go [to the priest] until later, just before he retires. Do you really need me to perform this service for you already, while it's still afternoon? You're much too early.

Boy: Anyway, stick your finger in.

Chuta: Since I perform this service every night, I sometimes think, "Enough already!" I've already told you this confidentially. It's too much. You can't understand my feelings. You're insensitive. This time I'd like real satisfaction.

Boy: Well, how about sticking [the dildo in] one sun?

Chuta: I guess it can't be helped, can it? My thing gets erect, and there's nothing to do but masturbate. So my penis gets weak, and my wife reviles me. I'll endure it, though, and help you out. This smells good. [Excuse me for] talking to you [this way], Master, but isn't your bottom hard to please? You're very fond of your bottom, aren't you? Before you go to the honorable priest, I wonder if you'd let me stick my penis in.

[Original caption:] Boy: Smear on that clove oil, then screw me with your full five sun![6]
[The servant Chuta happily complies with the boy's invitation]

Up to this point Chuta would perform his services with complete diligence, but now his penis would be erect. He could not help but masturbate (setsuri [senzuri] o zo kakikeru). Blowing on the charcoal, he would warm the boy's bottom. Finally [the boy] would be called to [the priest's] bed.

[Now clothed, Chuta warms the boy's bottom]
[The boy, now prepared for pedication by the old priest, approaches his room]

Being old, [the priest] went to sleep early, so there was not much time to embrace the boy before he went to sleep. Thus, without any delay, the old priest would insert his penis into the bottom of this boy who had prepared so well in advance. Such a sincerely devoted acolyte is without parallel. One must regard him as a priceless human being.[7]


Synopsis of the second story

A priest falls in love with another priest's chigo. The chigo arranges a rendezvous in the garden. After repeated liaisons, the chigo takes the tonsure and the two continue their affair.

The chigo on the veranda (19th-century manuscript of Chigo no sōshi in the British Museum)


Synopsis of the third story

A monk falls in love with the chigo of a high-ranking priest. He makes advances toward the chigo, who refuses at first but then takes the monk as a lover. Eventually they have sex next to the sleeping priest.

"The chigo ... takes the monk as his lover"
"Eventually they have sex next to the sleeping priest"


Synopsis of the fourth story

A beautiful and proud chigo kept by an aristocrat attracts the attention of a low-ranking, old monk. Out of pity, the chigo permits the lovelorn monk to penetrate him

"A beautiful and proud chigo ... attracts the attention of a low-ranking, old monk"
"Out of pity, the chigo permits the lovelorn monk to penetrate him"


Synopsis of the fifth story

A young monk admires the chigo of a stern priest. He learns that the chigo sleeps in a walled room (nurigome; most rooms were enclosed by sliding screens or doors), and sneaks inside to wait. When the chigo returns, he realizes that someone is present, but pretends not to notice, and chats with an attendant. As the chigo lies on the floor with the lower half of his body in his room, he is penetrated by the hidden monk. Later the chigo has a little door installed so that the monk can come and go as he pleases.

Three monks converse with the chigo
The chigo is pedicated on the young monk's lap
Pedication in another position
The monk fellates the chigo
The chigo fellates the monk, while the latter rims him
Pedication again


[1] The chigo’s age range was a little younger at both ends than that of the wakashu, the boy loved by samurai and townsmen at a mostly later date. See the article, The Age of the Loved Boy in Traditional Japan.

[2] There is very little firsthand information available about the Daigoji scroll, which is closely held. See Sawa Ryūken, "Daigoji komonjo, shōgyō chōsa no sokuseki" (The documents of Daigoji: A history of the survey of sacred texts) in Daigoji bunkazai kenkyūjo kiyō  (1978) I 22 and Takahashi Tetsu Hihō emaki kō (Secret heirloom picture scrolls) (Tokyo, 1965). [Note by Paul S. Atkins, “Chigo in the Medieval Japanese Imagination” by Paul S. Atkins in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Aug. 2008), p. 950.]

[3] Hashimoto Osamu, "Hiragana Nihon bijutsushi (sono sanjū-ni) mazamaza to nikutai de aru yō na mono 'Chigo sōshi'" (A hiragana history of Japanese art (32): "The Chigo Scroll" and its vivid depiction of the body) in Geijutsu Shinchō 47.6  (1996) 112-17.

[4] Inagaki Taruho and Ihara Saikaku, Taruho-ban 'Nanshoku ōkagami.' (Tokyo, 1977) vol. 2.

[5] Such depictions of fellatio and analingus are extremely rare in old Japanese art or literature, which generally assume sex consists of pedication of the boy, sometimes accompanied by masturbation of him by his lover. See Domoto Masaki. " 'Chigo no soshi': Honbun shokai," Yaso (Tokyo) 15 (April 1985; reprint, November 1989), special edition, Shonen, p.187.

[6] Sono choji-yu o fude de toto to somete, go sun bakari hineri ireyo. Five sun equals six inches.

[7] The Ninnaji was a Shingon temple, founded in 886, located northeast of Kyoto. [Translator’s note]




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