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Male Colors

The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan

Gary Leupp (Author)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 317 pages
ISBN: 9780520209008
May 1997
$33.95, £28.00
Tokugawa Japan ranks with ancient Athens as a society that not only tolerated, but celebrated, male homosexual behavior. Few scholars have seriously studied the subject, and until now none have satisfactorily explained the origins of the tradition or elucidated how its conventions reflected class structure and gender roles. Gary P. Leupp fills the gap with a dynamic examination of the origins and nature of the tradition. Based on a wealth of literary and historical documentation, this study places Tokugawa homosexuality in a global context, exploring its implications for contemporary debates on the historical construction of sexual desire.

Combing through popular fiction, law codes, religious works, medical treatises, biographical material, and artistic treatments, Leupp traces the origins of pre-Tokugawa homosexual traditions among monks and samurai, then describes the emergence of homosexual practices among commoners in Tokugawa cities. He argues that it was "nurture" rather than "nature" that accounted for such conspicuous male/male sexuality and that bisexuality was more prevalent than homosexuality. Detailed, thorough, and very readable, this study is the first in English or Japanese to address so comprehensively one of the most complex and intriguing aspects of Japanese history.
Gary P. Leupp is Associate Professor of History at Tufts University and the author of Servants, Shophands, and Laborers in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan (1992).
"An invaluable resource for anyone seeking a history of the representation of homosexuality in Japan."—Sandra Buckley, author of Broken Silence: Voices of Japanese Feminism

"Opens a window on the complex and varied patterns of sexual relations between males in early modern Japan. Imperative reading for anyone concerned with human sexual expression in social context."—David F. Greenberg, author of The Construction of Homosexuality

"Nanshoku—male colors—as male same-sex eroticism and sexuality were known in early modern Japan, enjoyed an honored place in the life and mythology of the age, celebrated in art and literature with as much energy and enthusiasm as male-female eroticism. Unfettered by the moral opporbium that constrained—or concealed—male-male eroticism in Europe, male colors flew brightly in the public culture of urban Japan. Gary Leupp explores the practices and the cultural celebration of the Edo-era nanshoku tradition in this exuberant, sensitive, and yet dispassionate social and cultural history of male homoeroticism, the best modern scholarly study in English to date. Leupp ranges widely in a vast array of original literary, dramatic, and visual sources, which he brings to life with a finely textured use of comparative material from other traditions of male-male love both in East Asia and across the premodern world. Highly original and insightful, it will be standard reading for years to come."—Ronald P. Toby, author of State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan: Asia in the Development of the Tokugawa Bakufu

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