Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

Categories: History

Japan is a country of contradictions and contrasts, liberated and chaste. Having lived for about 250 years under the Iron Curtain, in artificial isolation, the Japanese formed their own attitude towards sex, which was largely incomprehensible to the “gaijin” - a non-Japanese.

Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

To illustrate the duality of the Japanese attitude towards everything sexual, let's tell a funny story that happened in the 30s of the last century. An exhibition was held in Japan, to which a valuable exhibit was brought - Rodin’s sculpture “The Kiss”. A naked marble couple is intertwined in a passionate embrace, their lips connected...

Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

This is what confused the Japanese. No, not the nakedness of the stone lovers or even their open embrace. It was the kiss that caused indignation and shock among the receiving party. The Japanese suggested that the organizers cover up the “disgrace” so as not to embarrass the decent citizens of the Land of the Rising Sun. Of course, no one gave consent to this, and the Japanese never admired the masterpiece of the French sculptor.

After Japan's self-isolation ended, a stream of European literature poured into the Land of the Rising Sun. Translators are faced with the difficult task of translating the untranslatable. For example, the word "kiss". No, in the Japanese language it certainly was, but it was not of a playful or erotic nature, but a shade of vulgarity and rudeness. For example, in one of the texts the phrase “to take a kiss from your lips” was bashfully translated as “to lick your lips.” Even now in Japanese films or anime you will rarely hear the Japanese equivalent of the word “kiss”; more and more often you will come across the familiar English kiss, slightly phonetically changed in the Japanese manner.

Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

The Japanese religious system has always been kind to sex itself. The ban on kissing was one of the few imposed on the Japanese. The traditional Japanese religion, Shintoism, had almost no restrictions on the intimate life of the spouses. Although certain recommendations were still given to the husband and wife. For example, spouses were advised to lie with their heads to the west, and the famous writer of erotic stories Ihara Saikaku (remember that name!) spoke disapprovingly of a husband and wife whose “sleeping mats... end up in disarray, despite the fact that the previous night was under the sign of the Rat.” "

In the 17th century, Confucianism became the main ideology of Japan. Buddhism is the most ascetic of the teachings presented, and it was much freer in Japan than in many other countries.

Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

At the beginning of the 17th century, Japan was united under the rule of the shoguns (nobles) of the Tokugawa dynasty, whose head was Minamoto Tokugawa no Ieyasu. Like any new ruler, Tokugawa began to change the country “for the better.” It was the shoguns who closed Japan from the outside world for two and a half centuries. First, Tokugawa expelled all foreigners from the country, and forbade the Japanese themselves, under pain of death, to leave their homeland.

Tokugawa set himself the goal of “raising Japan from its knees” and reviving “traditional values,” and therefore there were more than enough restrictions, including those related to intimate life. First of all, class boundaries. Tokugawa was a fierce advocate of Confucian values, and therefore prohibited marriages not only between free and slaves (they were banned before), between the “mean” and “good” (close to the emperor) classes, but also between different categories of “vile” . Premarital sex was prohibited, and if after the wedding it was discovered that the bride was no longer a girl, the marriage was dissolved. The minimum age of marriage for boys was 15 years, and for girls - 13.

Representatives of the upper class could have concubines, but only with the consent of their wife. Although the institution of concubines did not take root in Japan, this did not stop Japanese men from having fun on the side, but if they caught their wife with her lover, they could deal with both without trial.

Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

Tokugawa also changed the logistics of selling love. He designated special areas on the outskirts of cities where one could sell oneself. These areas were surrounded by high walls and carefully guarded.

Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

In the 13th century, the influential Japanese Hojo Shigetoki wrote the book “Message from Teacher Gokurakuji,” which he addressed to his grandson. There he described what, in his opinion, a worthy man of the military class should do. There were also these lines:

Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

In Japan at the beginning of the 17th century, male and female prostitution was widespread in the cities of Kyoto, Edo and Osaka. One of the largest red light districts was considered to be Tokyo's Yoshiwara during the Edo era. It was created by the shogunate as a kind of ghetto for forbidden entertainment. People usually got to Yoshiwara by boat - Yoshiwara was surrounded by about 50 piers.

Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

It was not difficult for a Japanese to choose an establishment to his liking: the front wall of the meeting houses was in the form of an open lattice, through which women could be easily seen. Expensive women sat behind vertical bars, and cheap women sat behind horizontal bars, and the best courtesans, oiran, were completely hidden from the eyes of prying eyes.

Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

In 1893, more than 9,000 women lived in the area. Many suffered from syphilis, died from sexually transmitted diseases or unsuccessful abortions. Parents often sold girls to brothels between the ages of seven and twelve. If the little ones were “lucky”, they became students of a successful courtesan. Although the contract with the brothel was most often concluded for 5-10 years, girls were sometimes kept in a brothel for their entire lives for huge debts.

Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

Sometimes a rich man could buy a contract for a prostitute and make her his wife or concubine, but such cases were rare. More often, women simply died from illness or in childbirth.

There are about 8 categories of prostitutes: from the most inexpensive yujo to the courtesans of tayu and oiran.

Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

The heyday of homosexuality in Japan occurred at the end of the 18th century: treatises began to appear, discussing in some detail the aesthetic and ethical sides of this phenomenon. Previously, “men’s houses” could easily coexist with temples. During the shogunate, the phenomenon was brutally fought, but then “corrupt men” pretended to be sellers of incense and freely visited rich houses, offering their goods and themselves.

Japanese homosexuals were angrily condemned only by visiting Christians. For the time being, intimate relationships between men—usually between monks or samurai—were not discussed publicly, but by the 17th–18th centuries, attitudes toward homosexuality had become quite clear. If it was not equated with virtue, it was considered a common occurrence.

Only without kissing: Japanese sex culture before the 20th century

On one condition. Men should truly love each other, and not just satisfy their lust in this way. Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a former samurai and author of Hidden in the Leaves, which became the code of honor for Japanese warriors, wrote:

Samurai in love often exchanged vows of fidelity, including in writing. A document from 1542 has been preserved, in which Takeda Shingen (the future great warrior and commander) swore allegiance to his sixteen-year-old lover.

This is how Japan is. Dual, unusual, unusual to the eye and understanding of a European, but still incredibly interesting and attractive. If you want to get better acquainted with the classics of Japanese erotic literature, believe me, it's worth reading at least once! - then remember the name - Ihara Saikaku. A Japanese writer who lived in the 17th century devoted many of his works to the intimate side of life. In particular, he wrote the short story “Five Women Surrendered to Love” and the erotic homosexual story “The Tale of Gengobei, Who Loved Much.”

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