Erotic art in Japan

14th September 2020, 10:50 pm

Japan’s attitude towards homosexuality and artistic depictions of such are a bit complex and culturally layered, but it wasn’t always this way. Unlike the west, which gradually experienced over the last 50 years more and more tolerance towards homosexuality and acceptance of LGBTQ people, Japan seemingly almost had gone in the opposite direction—from a commonplace and acceptable practice during the Edo period, to a more discreet and not so acceptable choice of living nowadays (although some positive progression has taken place during the last decade).

Nanshoku, a term used in Japan to refer to male-to-male sexual relationship in the pre-modern era (up to the Meiji period), became less and less encouraged and acceptable with the westernization process of Japan during the twentieth century, and rendered even hostile and illegal (sodomy) at some point, as western ideas of sexology became more prevalent and adapted by Japanese lawmakers and society. An entire history of tolerance—represented in the popularity of male-to-male relationships in monastic settings, in Kabuki theatre, and in male prostitution—lasting many hundreds of years, fell out of fashion and became taboo.

So have the ubiquitous and beloved artistic depictions (mainly prints) of homosexual acts and homoerotic art. Nonetheless, with pioneering western homoerotic artists such as Bill Ward and Tom of Finland, a new generation of contemporary Japanese homoerotic artists has slowly started to emerge from mid-twentieth century, taking inspiration from their western compeers, and producing works motivated by their aesthetic and ideological ideas, with a culturally appropriate Japanese overtone.

-Shai Ohayon







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Published: 14th September 2020

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