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Japanese Literature  
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A widely known popular legend in fact attributes the introduction of male love to the great spiritual leader Kúkai (Kóbó Daishi, 774-835), who studied esoteric "True Words" Buddhism in China where he first encountered it and then brought the custom back with him when he established the center of esoteric Buddhism at Mt. Kóya in Japan.

Love Poetry and Acolyte Tales

Numerous love poems by Buddhist priests addressed to their beloved acolytes are preserved in the imperial poetic anthologies dating from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, attesting to how thoroughly male love between priests and acolytes was integrated into classical court culture.

Subsequently, a group of popular prose narratives called acolyte tales (chigo monogatari) appeared in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and were circulated and reprinted well into the Edo Period (1600-1868).

Acolyte tales derived from a tradition of Buddhist enlightenment tales (hosshin mono) or confessional tales (zange mono), and typically told of a monk's love for a boy and how loss of the beloved led to the monk's realization of Buddhist truth. Youthful male beauty symbolically serves in these tales both to attract (delude, in Buddhist terms) the monk and to dispel the attraction (delusion).

Inevitably, the acolyte is revealed to be an incarnation of a Bodhisattva, such as Jizo (Sanskrit: Ksitigarbha) or Kannon (Sanskrit: Avalokitesvara), who transformed itself into a beautiful boy in order to bring a monk to salvation.

Male-Male Love in the Samurai Culture

Male love relationships between adult samurai and adolescent samurai youths (wakashu) in which an age difference and a sexual and emotional hierarchy existed between lover and beloved became a prominent feature of samurai society from this period, especially among the elite. Such relationships were so unproblematic that few contemporary stories record the phenomenon.

One rare example was the powerful Ashikaga shógun Yoshimitsu's (1358-1408) patronage of the future Noh actor and playwright Zeami (1363-1443). Yoshimitsu observed him in a performance in 1374 when Zeami was just twelve and was so smitten with his beauty and genius that he took him into his retinue and nurtured his talent for several decades.

Their relationship caused something of a scandal because of the difference in class and rank between Zeami and the young shógun, which may explain why the relationship is relatively well documented.

Zeami's critical essays on Noh reveal an aesthetic explicitly based on the appreciation of youthful male beauty, and state that a young actor achieves full "flower" when he learns to interiorize his youthful physical beauty and convert it into lifelong theatrical skill.

Male-Male Love in the Merchant Class

Ironically, the model of male love as practiced by samurai was first given literary expression by a merchant-class writer, Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693), in a collection of stories titled The Great Mirror of Male Love (Nanshoku ókagami [1687]; tr. Schalow, 1990).

This happened because urban society's contact with the samurai class in the early years of the seventeenth century led to the adoption of certain features of samurai life, including the practice of male love, and Saikaku's merchant-class readers were eager to read about how such relations were practiced by their social superiors. Thus, Saikaku's rendering of male love relations between a samurai man and youth was idealized from the merchant's perspective.

The merchant class's own version of male love was fundamentally different from the samurai model in that it was based on a commercial transaction and involved boy prostitution between youthful kabuki actors (kabuki wakashu) and their patrons. Whether the youths were samurai or kabuki actors, Saikaku's narratives always depict the beloved youth as a paragon ("mirror") of male love.

Among their adult male lovers, however, there are two distinct types. One group is made up of "connoisseurs of boys" (shójin zuki) who nevertheless marry, support families, and have sexual relations with their wives or courtesans. The other group is made up of "woman haters" (onna girai) whose feelings for boys are exclusive and preclude marriage or maintaining a household.

The two groups find their rough equivalent in the modern dichotomy between bisexuality and exclusive homosexuality. Interestingly, Saikaku did not structure The Great Mirror of Male Love around the "bisexual" ethos of the connoisseur but around the exclusively "homosexual" ethos of the woman hater because of the latter's clearly superior devotion to the "Way of the Youth" (wakashudó).

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