Chapter Seven. This chapter examines select topics in the general realm of sex and sexuality in Tokugawa and Meiji Japan. We start with the Tokugawa period and focus mainly on urban popular culture and symbolic representation. In other words, we will examine the "language" of sex in Tokugawa Japan, with "language" here including both visual images and words.
Marriage in Japan during the Heinan period. Marriage the way we see it has been a pretty recent phenomenon in Japanese history. High born people could generally have several partners during their lifetime. Lower class people could not afford to keep more than one wife at a time, but they could change wives easily if the current wives family was of lower social status and could not bring political pressure against them. A union was more of a family affair where two household were combined, not unlike in the middle ages in Europe, , rather than it being a private affair between two people. Even the children belonged to the household and not to any one of their parents.
Records of homosexuality in Japan date back to ancient times; indeed, at some times in Japanese history love between men was viewed as the purest form of love. While homosexuality had never been viewed as a sin in Japanese society and religion , sodomy was restricted by legal prohibition in , but the provision was repealed only seven years later by the Penal Code of . Exposure to Western religious thought and the desire to appear "civilized" have influenced the way that homosexuality is viewed by both the Japanese government and by the population at large since the end of the nineteenth century. Available sources on homosexual behaviour in ancient Japan, as in ancient China , are largely literary. While Chinese references from the 6th century BCE contain homosexual references, similar references in Japan begin to appear in about the 10th century.
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. 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 also carried on open relationships with women. This print from the 19th century documents the practice of pederasty in medieval monasteries.