Japan from the inside out

Sex, culture, history, and the Japanese

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 3, 2012

AUTHORS Dekune Tatsuro and Nakamura Akihiko held a wide-ranging discussion about the Japanese view of sex throughout history that was published in the weekly Shukan Bunshun. Here are some translated excerpts:

Nakamura: When you think of the Japanese view of sex since ancient times, the first thing you become aware of is a certain easygoing attitude.

Mr. Nakamura then quotes a poem from the Manyoshu about a soldier going with the troops to Kyushu.

Nakamura: The Katori in this poem is probably the Katori of Chiba Prefecture. The solider has made a firm promise to a young woman there. But as soon as he arrives at Chikushi, he sees a young woman so attractive he completely forgets his promise and gets her pregnant (laughs). The editing of the Manyoshu was an enterprise conducted under the aegis of the national government. It’s amazing this poem is so prominent in the collection.

Dekune: Sexual morality then was quite different than it is today. In those days there was no system of monogamy, and there wasn’t even the custom of having sex in a room. They did it out in the fields. Even now there are still practices that resemble the old Kurayami festival. Men and women would meet, pair off, and head to the grass for sex. Recently, people don’t go to those lengths, however (laughs).

Nakamura: That’s because the people became able to build their own houses. That’s when the custom changed to night crawling.

Dekune: The Heian nobility did quite a lot of night crawling. The Genji Monogatari was written to overcome the vicissitudes of that practice. It starts with how to write a love letter in the form of a waka, and how to carry affairs to their conclusion. In a way, it’s a textbook for male/female relations. The male and female nobles, including the Emperor, competed to read it. It was very easygoing.

Nakamura: Incidentally, Fujiwara no Michinaga was said to be one of the models for Hikaru Genji. He gained power by marrying off his daughters to the Emperor, and setting up their son as the next Emperor.

To determine whether or not his daughter was pregnant, he would pull on her nipples to see if milk came out. I don’t know whether a woman lactates when she is pregnant, but it would be unthinkable today for a father to grab his daughter’s breasts like that….

Dekune: When I first came to Tokyo in early 1965, and rode on the Joban train line, a young woman in her 30s sitting across from me suddenly pulled out her breast and fed her baby. No one thought that was unusual….

Nakamura: Erotic ukiyoe used to be called “funny pictures” (笑い絵). That sort of sensibility is the Japanese view of sex itself, I think. The people who have been easygoing, laughing a lot and enjoying themselves in male-female relations, without putting on a show of getting weirdly deep, have been the Japanese, don’t you think?

Dekune: We’ve been laughing for 2,000 years (laughs).

There’s a lot more to the interview, but some of the historical references are obscure and of lesser interest. They also discuss the taste some male members of the nobility and warlords had for young men, and suggest that Oda Nobunaga liked the female role. But that’s not my stroke, and I’m the one doing the translating!

2 Responses to “Sex, culture, history, and the Japanese”

  1. 21st Century Schizoid Man said I do not understand why Slim called his back up band Peruvians. Might have included real peruvians?

  2. […] Sex, culture, history, and the Japanese ( […]

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