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literature

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Japanese Literature  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  

Saikaku's adoption of the woman hater's viewpoint gives the opening and closing sections of the book a misogynistic tone that modern readers will find offensive, but Saikaku's misogyny must be understood as employed strategically for literary purposes since he wrote so differently about women elsewhere in his oeuvre.

Another interesting feature of Saikaku's depiction in The Great Mirror of Male Love is that it makes clear that the strict formulation of male love as a relationship between an adult man and a youth is frequently maintained only in the form of fictive role-playing.

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Thus, in "The ABCs of Boy Love," the samurai youth and his male lover are both nine-year-old boys (eight by Western count) who affect the style of a man-youth relationship. In "Two Old Cherry Trees Still in Bloom," the samurai couple consists of a sixty-six-year-old man and his companion, age sixty-three, who still sports the hairstyle of a "youth." And in "Bamboo Clappers Strike the Hateful Number," the "youth" in the text is a youthful-looking thirty-eight-year-old kabuki actor.

In each case, Saikaku shows how the literal age-based hierarchy between a man and a youth has been replaced by a fictive hierarchy no longer based on age but maintained through role-play.

In addition to Saikaku, another Edo Period writer who wrote about male love was Ueda Akinari (1734-1809). He included stories about both the samurai and monk-acolyte traditions of male love in his collection of didactic narratives, Tales of Moonlight and Rain (Ugetsu monogatari [1776]; tr. Zolbrod, 1974).

"Chrysanthemum Tryst" details the miraculous tale of a dead samurai whose spirit returns to visit his beloved in order to fulfill a vow made when they parted; when the beloved learns that his lover was tortured and killed because of a false accusation, he avenges the treachery. The point of the story, typical in tales of samurai male love, is to impress the reader with the admirable loyalty of the two men's mutual devotion.

In "The Blue Hood," the tradition of acolyte tales from the fifteenth century is revived and given a new twist by Akinari. Here, a monk in a mountain temple is confronted with the death of his beloved acolyte but, rather than it leading to his realization of Buddhist truth in a manner typical of stories in the genre, the monk shows the extent of his love and delusion by refusing to accept the boy's death. Instead, he goes on making love to the boy's corpse until the dead flesh could no longer sustain love-making, at which point he ate it, bones and all.

The monk's inability to accept the boy's death turns him into a ghoul who comes down from the mountain temple to terrorize villagers in the valley below, which he visits in order to search the graveyards for bodies to eat. The monk becomes enlightened only after the villagers beg an itinerant priest to confront him with a powerful Zen phrase that releases him from his attachment.

The moral of the narrative, typical of Buddhist enlightenment stories, is the power of Buddhist spirituality to dispell even the most deeply rooted attachments, here symbolized by the love of a monk for a boy.

Same-Sex Love in the Modern Era

The Buddhist and samurai traditions of male love, and their commercial counterpart in the kabuki theater, virtually disappeared from literature in the modern era under the influence of Western legal and medical discourses introduced in the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

Traditional nanshoku (male love) was gradually refigured at this time as dóseiai ("same-sex love" = homosexuality) and became a taboo subject. The Japanese were determined that Europeans view them as civilized, and depictions of homosexuality had no place in the newly civilized society the Meiji rulers were intent on creating.

Natsume Soseki

The transition was not without its problems, however, and one writer who dealt sensitively with the question of how male intimacy was to be reconfigured for modern Japanese men was Natsume Soseki (1867-1916). His novel Kokoro (1914; tr. McClellan, 1957) is a story about a male student and his mentor, and about the mentor's secret feelings of love and remorse toward his male friend "K," which are revealed to the student during the narrative.

The work can be read, at one level, as a moving farewell to the Edo Period traditions of intimacy and love between males.

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