Nanshoku Okagami

Posted on October 3, 2010


Ihara Saikaku’s Great Mirror of Male Love (Nanshoku Okagami) from 1687, is a collection of short stories about idealized love between samurai and their young male lovers, and kabuki actor prostitutes and their middle-class patrons.

Japan has a long history of homosexuality that partially mirrors ancient Greece: warriors taking on boys and youths as lovers until the young men come of age, typically at 19 or 20. But the practice wasn’t restricted to samurai – Buddhist priests also had a tradition of taking boy lovers starting in the 12th century. By the time of Saikaku’s Great Mirror, the practice had spread to the moneyed middle class, who instead patronized young kabuki actors whose favors were eagerly paid for and fought over by other men.

The Great Mirror of Male Love is mostly not explicitly erotic. Instead it focuses more on the romantic side of things, detailing courtships and full of vows of fidelity, sacrifice and tragic endings.

The Great Mirror of Male Love is on Google Books, here.