Gay History of Japan

(I) loved your fingers, hands, arms, chest, cheeks, eyes, tongue and legs. I was in love with you.”
This is not a sentence which a man wrote to a woman, nor did a woman write to a man.
This is not a love letter written secretly while worrying about other people’s eyes.
This sentence was part of a school report submitted by Yasunari Kawabata, a Japanese writer who received the Nobel Prize in the early 20th century.
He was 19 years old when he wrote it to express how he loved his lover, a boy student.
This report was introduced in a novel called “Shonen” written by Yasunari Kawabata.
Kawabata Yasuyari later confessed that this novel was rather a story about myself I kept it as secrets.

According to Yasunari Kawabata, his teacher showed him a technique on how to write a report, but never criticized about the contents.
Simply said, Japan is a place where heterosexual relationships and homosexual relationships have and continue to coexist.

Gay culture in Japan can be traced to an aristocrat’s dairy called Ouki written by Sanesuke Fujiwarano more than 1000 years ago and in the Tale of Genji, which is a classic work of Japanese literature attributed to the Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the early eleventh century.

One of aristocrats kept his dairy in a straightforward expression. He wrote “I wake up with a hard penis having had a dream to sleep with a son of a cabinet minister in a room at the palace while I was on a night duty at a palace.”

Hikaru Genji, the protagonist of the Tale of Genji was often praised by other men saying they were enraptured with his beauty. At the same time, Hikaru Genji was going to make a move towards a married woman, and he planned to ask her brother to be their love cupid. Meanwhile, Hikaru Genji became very close to the brother of the married woman because the brother was a very smart and beautiful boy.
The novel was not written in a direct expression; however some expressions implied there was a physical relationship between Hikaru Genji and the brother.

Diaries of those eras were not private. They were written assuming someone would read.
1000 years ago, all official documents were written in Chinese character. Whereas novels were written in Chinese character and Hiragara and were widely read by female aristocrats.
Because homosexual love relationships were written without hesitation in novels for the public eyes, we can presume that at that time homosexual love relationships existed and were recognized as one of love relationships within the aristocrat class.

In Japanese history, homosexual love relationships flourished the most during the Age of Civil Wars between the middle of the 15th century and the middle of the 16th century.
During the Age of Civil Wars, people lived in fear since they always had to worry who would betray them, chase them away from their homeland and kill them. The fear was caused even between parents and children, between brothers and sisters, between relatives, and between masters and servants. In other words, trust was valued even more during this age in reflection to their fear.

During the Dark Age of Civil Wars, carrying on the family name was one of the most important tasks for warriors, so having a wife and children became a duty for them. On the other hand, solders at the battle field hungered for “fellow-love feelings” between men.

During the Age of Civil Wars, homosexual love relationships tended to start between a master and servant (attendant, follower). At the same time, many servants, who worshiped the same master, developed a friendship, and then their friendship expanded to love relationships lasting their life time.

One of the most significant homosexual love relations during the Age of Civil Wars was a relationship between Shingen Takeda, the leader and warlord around the beginning to late 16th century at the currently called Yamanashi prefecture area and Danzyo Kosaka, a follower of Shingen Takeda. Shingen Takeda was attracted to Danzyo Kosaka’s beauty and amazed by his smartness.

One day, the master, Shingen Takeda accused Danzyo Kosaka of cheating with another young warrior. However Shingen Takeda apologized to Danzyo Kosaka about accusing him without thinking straight and told him: “You are the only one I love.” This written evidence is stored at a reference room of Tokyo University, which is the most well known university in Japan.

At the same time, contrary to the story of Takeda and Kosaka there is an account regarding Shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi a strict heterosexual. Hideyoshi’s servants and subordinates worried about him because he was not interested in a male to male relationship. During this time, it was impractical for a high ranked warrior to love only women. According to an article in Rojin zatsuwa by Dr. Sensai Emura, Hideyoshi was a very smart person born into a lower social class family; however achieved the highest social class status when he became shogun. Hideyoshi was known to be a person who was crazy about women. He had a wife and many concubines but he had never tried to touch his boy servants. One day Hideyoshi whispered to his beautiful boy servant. This enthralled his subordinates who believed this was an indication their master wished to go to bed with his beautiful boy servant.
After the master left his bedroom his subordinates rushed in and asked the beautiful boy servant if he had a sexual relationship with the master. The beautiful boy servant replied: “he asked me if I had any sisters”. This greatly disappointed all the subordinates to realize their master was not looking at any boys.

As previously documented, homosexual love relations, especially male to male homosexual love relationships often flourished during the Ages of Civil Wars. However, more examples of homosexual love relations are evident during the Edo era from 17th century to 19th century.

During Edo period, homosexual love relations expanded to include “brother-hood relations” in addition to the master and servant relations.

Brother-hood relations were created by non-related males at a young age that grew up together and lived their adult life together.

Ever since the Age of Civil Wars, females were considered to exist for the purpose of producing children. Regardless of social status like warriors, merchants and family members, males and females did not eat their meals together.

Under the warrior class, males and females were strictly separated. Schools for warriors’ son were established at each local domain throughout Japan. Young warriors’ sons created an environment where they would hang out, study, and learn martial arts together. It was very natural for them to develop “brother hood relations.”

It was not a surprising fact for young boys in the same age group to develop love feelings towards each other when they were in a confined environment; and spent their many hours for study time and discipline for martial arts skills together. Often they experienced sexual relations with other boys before they experienced it with other girls.

During the Meiji period, from the end of 19th century to the early 20th century, homosexual relations flourished among school students; and the practice of homosexual love relations was elevated and treated with awe. This act excluded the concept of the animal instinct which produces offspring. Many susceptible students supported this philosophy and expanded it to the level that a person who would seek same sex companionship had a very advanced mind as a human being.

Yasunari Kawabata, whose love letter that was introduced at the beginning, (“(I) loved your fingers, hands, arms, chest, cheeks, eyes, tongue and legs. I was in love with you.”)
was also one of the susceptible students who were strongly influenced by the idea of homosexuality as a sublime act. Other novelists who lived during the same era with Yasunari Kawabata also wrote about homosexuality.

Even now, thoughts towards homosexuality are carried on by current era novelists; specifically Yukio Mishima and Kenzaburo Ooe, well known writers in Japan and overseas.

As described, “homosexuality as a love form” has coexisted like heterosexual love relations in Japan for more than 1000 years until westernization of Japanese culture in current years.