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What Sex Was Like in Feudal Japan

Updated July 17, 2019 961.6k views7 items

Representations of feudal Japan are replete in historical works and art, as well as in contemporary fiction and cinema. This historical period is associated with fierce samurai, elegant courtesans, and an ever-present sense of formality in dress and culture. 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 intercourse was like in feudal Japan.

Samurai often got 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, intimate life was influenced by social standing. Essentially, one’s partner was almost always of a similar social background. Lower class teens in feudal Japan were free to get with whomever they wanted, but upper class youths had to follow strict rules about whom they could see and marry.  

  • Monks Committed Acts of Pederasty with Students

    Buddhist monks often openly indulged in age-unbalanced nanshoku, or pederast relationships in which they slept with their young male acolytes, who were adolescent. Monks also carried on open relationships with women. 

    This print from the 19th century documents the practice of pederasty in medieval monasteries.

  • Homosexuality Was Fairly Common

    Photo: Miyagawa Isshô / Public Domain

    Feudal Japan had few taboos about homosexuality or bisexuality. In fact, intercourse between men was sometimes idealized and celebrated, and relations 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 sex workers saw both male and female clients


  • Sex Was an Important Part of Japan's First Creation Myth

    Shinto, Japan's indigenous religion, has been around in various forms for thousands of years, and its recorded history began in 712 CE. According to the Shinto creation story, sex precedes the birth of a nation and its people. In this myth, one ancient being said to another:

    My body, formed though it be formed, has one place which is formed to excess. Therefore, I would like to take that place in my body which is formed to excess and insert it into that place in your body which is formed insufficiently, and thus give birth to the land. How would this be?

  • Sexual Pleasure Was Tantamount to Spiritual Enlightenment

    Tachikawa-ryu was a branch of Shingon Buddhism known as the main sex cult of Japan (apparently there were enough cults of this kind to require the designation "main"). According to the sect's beliefs, making love was a gateway to spiritual enlightenment because intercourse allowed for the loss of self. For Tachikawa-ryu Buddhists, doing the deed was an important part of spiritual and religious life. For them, it was more than just an ideal or symbol, it was, "viewed as good in itself apart from its role in procreation." The Tachikawa-ryu creed also stated "the loss of self in the act could lead to an awakening of the spirit."