Item ID: 9856 Shudō kōmoku 衆道綱目 [Explanation of Shudō]. NANSHOKU 男色, or DANSHOKU: HOMOSEXUAL LOVE.
Shudō kōmoku 衆道綱目 [Explanation of Shudō].
Shudō kōmoku 衆道綱目 [Explanation of Shudō].
Shudō kōmoku 衆道綱目 [Explanation of Shudō].

“The Way of Loving Youths”

Male-Male Love in Japan

Shudō kōmoku 衆道綱目 [Explanation of Shudō].

Two double-page & two full-page woodcut illus. [31] folding leaves. Small 8vo (58 x 42 mm.), orig. wrappers (a bit worn), orig. block-printed title-label perished, new stitching. Colophon: [most certainly Osaka]: Honya Kihei 本屋喜兵衛, “early November 1670.”

An unrecorded and extremely early printed work on Japanese male-male sexual relationships (nanshoku). This is the earliest example of the genre that we have handled. We find no record of this work in NIJL or WorldCat, and it appears this is the sole surviving copy.

The earliest known examples of nanshoku were published in the mid-17th century, and very few original editions survive because of the controversial nature of homosexual relationships in Japanese society. Anonymously authored and illustrated because of strict censorship, Shudō kōmoku is a superlative example of an understudied category of shunga, in which male-male romantic relationships (shudō), frequently involving an older man and a young boy, are hinted at in an array of visual cues, allusions, and innuendos. In addition to the four woodcut depictions of homosexual love in early modern Japan, the 19 chapters of text (listed below), offer instructions on the proper and tasteful conduct of these intimate relations.

Nanshoku and shudō shared certain lexical characteristics, and were used in practice almost interchangeably…In shudō, too, a masculine erotic subject lurked somewhere beneath the surface of the ideographs. The ‘way of youths’ was not the possession of youths themselves, as the characters might literally suggest, but existed instead from the perspective of their male admirers, specifically those old enough to perceive a contrast with the former’s adolescence. Shudō, in other words, was not so much the ‘way of youths’ as the ‘way of loving youths,’ an erotic path that younger males traveled only in their capacity as sexual objects, and females could not tread at all.”–Gregory M. Pflugfelder, Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600-1950 (1999), pp. 26-27 (& see all of this wonderful book).

The titles of the 19 chapters are as follows: Etiquette for the Senior; Etiquette for the Religious Practitioner; Etiquette for the Son of a Samurai, or a Page/Sandal-holder; Son of a Kabuki Actor; Adolescent Acolyte (koshō, 小姓); Merchant of Chinese Goods; Poor Behavior; Son of a Merchant; Merchant, Page, and Disciples; Prisoner; Poor Behavior by the Senior; Poor Behavior by the Youth; Bad Habits; Alternate Names for the Senior; Is Education Necessary for Wakashu [adolescent male]?; Permitted Activities for the Youth; Ideal Way of Speech for the Youth; Poor Education of the Junior; and Entering the Bed Chamber.

The chapter on alternate terms for the elder in the relationship proposes these terms: nenja (念者), nushi (ぬし), anibun (兄分), ikenjin (いけん人), and [unable to decipher].

First illustration (double-page): Two samurai play shōgi, the one on the left, based on his attire and hairstyle, is the younger man in a homosexual relationship (wakashu, 若衆). The man with the shaved head caressing the young man is a cleric or priest; the two are most certainly in a sexual relationship.

Second illustration (full-page): A wakashu, with a feminine hairstyle and kimono, but carrying a sword, is dancing in front of three men, one of whom also has a sheathed sword.

Third illustration (full-page): A wakashu arranges the hair of his partner, an older samurai.

Fourth illustration (double-page): In the middle of a dining party, a shudō couple embrace in an adjacent bedroom.

An astonishing survival for its surreptitious contents and early date of publication. In near fine condition; wrappers rubbed, and several small wormholes touching the text and some of the illustrations. The book is preserved in a highly decorative chitsu, to a level we have never seen before, employing silk and metal embroidery and printed motifs.

Japanese erotic books devoted entirely to male-male love “have suffered even greater attrition than heterosexual erotica, particularly in the 20th century.”–Shunga. Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art (British Museum: 2013), p. 443.

Price: $85,000.00

Item ID: 9856