Weird History What Sex Was Like in Feudal Japan  

T L Perez
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Feudal Japan is often idealized in historical works of art and modern fiction. This historical period is associated with fierce samurai, elegant courtesans, and an ever-present sense of formality in dress and culture (conversely, if you want a view of the violent, chaotic ugliness of the period, check out samurai cinema). Sex in feudal Japan was often idealized too, but sexuality was a lot less elegant and formal than many realize. This list will explore these harsh realities, and describe what sex was like in feudal Japan.

Some of these feudal Japan sex life items are surprising. For example, samurai often had sex with 12-year-old boys during official apprenticeships. Aristocratic men could have multiple wives and concubines, while their female counterparts were stuck with one husband. In feudal Japan, sex life was influenced by social standing. Essentially, one’s sexual partner was almost always of a similar social background. Lower class teens in feudal Japan were free to have as much sex as possible, but upper class youths had to follow strict rules about whom they could see and marry.  

The Samurai Way of the Young Promoted Pedophilia


The Samurai Way of the Young P... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list What Sex Was Like in Feudal Japan
Photo: Kitagawa Utamaro/Public Domain

When you hear the word samurai, you probably think of violence, honor, loyalty, a strict code of behavior. Maybe you see images of Toshiro Mifune or Tatsuya Nakadai, in a vortex of swirling wind and sand, mercilessly slicing down enemies. Or Zatoichi (who technically wasn't a samurai, just fyi) laying waste to hoards of yakuza scum. 

You should also include "pedophile" and "sodomy" in your definition of samurai. Samurai lived by a code, the way of the warrior, which provided various precepts. One of these precepts was shudo (abbreviated from wakashudō, "way of adolescent boys"). Shudo encouraged samurai to take on young, male lovers around the age of 12. Such "apprenticeships" were intended to create strong bonds between established samurai and future ones. The sexual relationships would carry on until the boy reached adulthood and became a samurai.

Monks Were Depraved, Lacivious Fiends


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Photo: Artist Unknown/Public Domain

As history shows us, there's not much similarity between Buddhist monks in Japan and Christian monks in Europe when it comes to sexuality. While ostensibly bound to a vow of chastity in certain sects of Buddhism, famously iconoclastic Zen monk Ikkyū once wrote, "follow the rule of celibacy and you are no more than an ass." 

Buddhist monks often openly indulged in age-unbalanced nanshoku, or pederast relationships in which they bum-shagged their young male acolytes, who were adolescent. Monks also carried on open sexual relationships with women. Ikkyū even married a woman after he grew "exhausted with homosexual pleasures."

Christian visitors to Japan were disgusted by the sexual habits of monks. To quote Wikipedia on the subject, "Jesuit priest Francis Cabral wrote in 1596 that 'abominations of the flesh' and 'vicious habits' were 'regarded in Japan as quite honourable; men of standing entrust their sons to the bonzes to be instructed in such things, and at the same time to serve their lust.'

Young Farmers Met Up for Sex in Huts


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Photo: Keisai Eisen/Public Domain

In some ways, teenage farmers had more freedom than teenage elites in feudal Japan. Wealthy adolescents had to abide many tedious social rules, rituals, and traditions. Their love and sex lives were completely controlled by their families and subject to the approval of other elites. Adolescent farmers, on the other hand, were free to have many sex partners, as long as the other kids were farmers too. It was common for these horny teens to meet in wakamo yado, or “young peoples huts,” to have sex. These dalliances would continue until a girl got pregnant, at which point the two young farmers would get married. 

Homosexuality Was Fairly Common


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Photo: Miyagawa Isshô/Public Domain

Feudal Japan had few taboos about homosexuality or bisexuality. In fact, sex between men was sometimes idealized and celebrated, and sex with women was considered spiritually draining for men. In Buddhist temples, homosexual relationships were rampant, and usually carried on between seasoned monks and acolytes they mentored. Homosexuality took place openly in the military, as well, and male prostitutes saw both male and female clients

In the case of both monks and samurai, homosexual relationships often ended when one or both partners reached adulthood - in the case of samurai, when the apprentice became a warrior; in the case of monks, when the acolyte became a temple member of equal standing to his lover or a fully fledged monk. This obviously wasn't the case with prostitutes or in the military, where clients and lovers were all adults.