chapter  11
10 Pages

Japan’s queer cultures

ByMark McLelland

When refl ecting on the history of “queer” or non-normative, non-heterosexual sexual relations in the Japanese context, it is important to consider that same-sex sexuality, particularly as practiced between men, has only comparatively recently come to be considered unusual and been consigned to the pathological side of a “normal”/“abnormal” divide. During the Edo period (1603-1868) there was no normative connection made between gender and sexual preference because all men, whether samurai, priest, or commoner, were able to engage in both same-and opposite-sex affairs. At the time, men’s same-sex relationships were governed by a code of ethics, described as nanshoku (male eroticism) or shudo¯ (the way of youths), in the context of which elite men were able to pursue boys and young men who had not yet undergone their coming-of-age ceremonies, also transgendered males of all ages from the lower classes who worked as actors associated with the kabuki theater. As well as being a conspicuous social reality, these relationships were widely represented in the culture of the period in art, literature, and on the stage.