In Edo Japan, adolescent boys that became underlings to samurai lived a sexually fluid, gender non-specific way of life. The boys, or wakashu, had unique hairstyles and wore distinct clothing to mark their status as the love partners of samurai superiors. Wakashu were also able to sleep with women, straddling the line between man and woman while simultaneously bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood. As a result, they're often referred to as Japan's "third gender."
Sex in medieval Japan isn't easily categorized and, as one of the many unique traditions of samurai life, wakashu represented the spectrum of gender and sexual mores. As samurai declined in society, wakashu fell by the wayside, but in their heyday, they were the "beautiful youth" of Japan.
It Was An Honor To Be A Wakashu And It Involved True Affection
Just as it was frowned upon for a samurai to not take a wakashu, it was a matter of pride to be in the service of a samurai. From an 18th-century manual:
If it is not so it becomes a matter of shame. However, then you have nothing left to lay down for your master. It is therefore understood to be both something pleasant and unpleasant.
Many writers from the period portray the experiences of the wakashu as pleasurable and actively offering themselves to their older companions willingly.
Wakashu Wore Distinct Clothing And Haircuts To Identify Themselves But Were Neither Male Nor Female
Once a boy became the underling of a samurai, the wakashu cut his hair and wore appropriate clothing. The haircut involved cutting the front part of the boy's hair in what resembled a receding hairline with a triangle shape. The clothing worn by wakashu often resembled the robes worn by unmarried Japanese women, the furisode kimono.
The wakashu were intentionally androgynous, presenting themselves as both handsome and beautiful.
Wakashu Could Sleep With Boys And Girls
Only boys of an appropriate age were allowed to be wakashu, meaning that adult-aged men couldn't enter into same-gender relationship with one another. Neither partner in the wakashudo partnership was prohibited from sleeping with women, however.
This was the only time in a man's life that he could physically engage with both genders. As the submissive one in the relationship, wakashu maintained that role when being with men but with women, they took on the dominant role. Once the two men parted ways, the older samurai could begin another relationship and the younger man could find a wakashu of his own.
Samurai Could Delay A Wakashu's Coming-Of-Age Ceremony To Keep Him Around Longer
A wakashu came of age at 18 or 19. But if his samurai was particularly fond of him, the samurai could manipulate that and keep him around longer. The genpuku, or coming of age ceremony, for Japanese boys was a rite of passage and it could be delayed until the age of 22 or even 25 during the pre-modern period.