- Museum number
- Object: Chigo no sōshi 稚児之草紙 (Book of Acolytes)
Shunga; handscroll, ink and colour on paper. Nineteenth-century copy of the oldest and most famous Japanese depiction of male-male sexual relations (nanshoku), dated 1321 and preserved at Sanbo-in, Daigo-ji temple, Kyoto. Eighteen scenes of Buddhist acolytes with temple servants or priests; five short ribald narratives; numerous inscribed comments and conversations surrounding the scenes.
- Production date
Height: 33.30 centimetres
Length: 1418 centimetres
- Curator's comments
This is a close and accurate copy of the oldest and most famous painting and text from medieval Japan about male–male sexual relations (nanshoku) in Buddhist temples. In modern times it has been given the title Chigo no so - shi (Book of Acolytes). The ‘original’ version, with an inscribed date of 1321 – which itself may be a copy of an earlier lost version – is known to be preserved at Sanbo - -in, Daigoji temple, Kyoto.1 This is currently inaccessible and only published in the form of very fragmentary old black-and-white photographs.2 The copy here includes an inscription at the end attributing the ‘original’ to monk Toba So - jo - (Kakuyu - , 1053–1140), as was common in later times for any comic-sexual paintings of the early medieval period. The handscroll is important direct evidence for the practice of affective and sexual relations between mature priests and younger acolytes (chigo) that was quite widespread in Buddhist temples in Japan in the medieval period (sex between priests and women was more strictly forbidden). The five sequences of pictures and five ‘episodic tales’ (setsuwa), short temple narratives with ribald content, are remarkably candid and direct about these male–male sexual matters (see also Clark et al 2013, pp. 62–73). Even judging from this much later work that has copied the original in minute detail, indicating the positions of worm holes for example, the style of the original paintings was simple and relatively naturalistic within the medieval painting tradition. In the opening sequence of pictures – to give a flavour of the work – a mature male servant prepares an acolyte for a night of sex with a priest. First he embraces the lad to relax him; then a dildo is used to relax his anus; and finally clove oil is applied with a brush, as a lubricant for intercourse. After warming the youth’s bottom over a small brazier, he dresses him in a fine robe and directs him towards the door of the priest’s bedchamber. [TC]
This scroll is direct evidence for the practice of affective and sexual relations between mature monks and acolytes, which was quite widespread in Buddhist temples in Japan in the medieval period (sex between monks and women was more strictly forbidden). The pictures and text are remarkably candid and the style of the painting simple and relatively naturalistic within the medieval painting tradition.
The ‘original’ scroll from which this was copied has an inscribed date of 1321, but may itself be a copy of an earlier lost version. It is currently inaccessible and only published in fragmentary old photographs (e.g. Hayashi & Lane 1997, figs. 21-23). Fragmentary photographs of two scenes from the 1321 version show line-for-line correspondence with the equivalent scenes and texts in the present copy. The line quality of the original is evidently superior.
The present scroll (the copy) is reproduced in its entirety in Shirakura Yoshihiko, ed., Bessatsu taiyō: Nikuhitsu shunga (Tokyo, Heibonsha, 2009), pp. 12-17, with commentary by Shirakura from which much of the information presented here derives. This is the only known copy to have been published in its entirety. The existence of at least one more complete close copy, made by Niiro Chūnosuke (1869-1954), can be confirmed (Dōmoto 1985, p. 168; some censored details of the painting are reproduced).
Shirakura (ibid.) has suggested an early Edo period date (i.e. 17th – early 18th century) for the present copy. However, this copy accurately reproduces all of the damage, including wormholes, of the 1321 version, and such careful antiquarianism was more characteristic of the 19th century.
A full transcription of the text is given in Ozaki 1925; rev. 1973; a modern Japanese translation is given in Dōmoto 1985. Almost all of the 18 scenes feature adolescent acolytes (chigo) from Buddhist temples, coupled in the first three scenes with a mature male servant and in subsequent scenes with mature monks.
Before being owned by Mitsui Takaharu, this copy may have been in the collection of Ozaki Kyūya (1890-1972; see below).
The following descriptions derive from the commentary on the present copy given in Shirakura, pp. 12-17.
The first text tells the story of a monk of Ninna-ji temple, who had mastered all his religious devotions and yet ‘this thing’ (kono koto, i.e., male-male sex) was the only practice he could not give up. (Shirakura points out that there is another reference to relations between a monk and acolyte at Ninna-ji in chapter 54 of the classical collection Tsurezure-gusa by Yoshida Kenkō, thought to date from c. 1310-31. Also, there is an even earlier account of relations between Prince-priest Kakushō [1129-69] of Ninna-ji and the acolyte Senshu in the collection of tales Kokon chōmonjū of 1254.)
In scenes 1-3, a mature male servant first embraces an acolyte; he then uses a dildo to relax the anus; and finally applies clove oil with a brush, as a lubricant for intercourse.
In scene 5, an acolyte is pursued by an older monk and decides to play a trick on him. He gets the monk to hide in a clump of tall grasses and then has a fellow acolyte hitch up his robes and back onto the monk’s penis, which is sticking out from the grasses.
In scenes 8 & 9, a middle-aged monk is pining after an acolyte but cannot express his feelings aloud. The acolyte takes pity on the older man and allows him to wash his feet. Whereupon the monk catches sight of the younger man’s beautiful bottom and they proceed to have intercourse.
In scenes 16-18, a monk steals the affections of an acolyte away from a fellow monk and the two make love in various positions.
(Timothy Clark, Feb. 2013)
The complete text of the scroll, perhaps taken from this copy (the lines of missing text correspond) was first published by Ozaki Kyūya in Edo nanpa zakkō, Shunyōdō, 1925), but with extensive expurgation. Ozaki says he was working from a copy of the scroll that he owned (so perhaps this one). A full transcription was then published posthumously in his collection Kinsei shomin bungaku ronkō (Chūō Kōronsha, 1973), pp. 181-188. Ozaki conjectured that the title ‘Chigo no sōshi’ is relatively recent and that the older title by which the work has been known is, simply, ‘Nanshoku emaki’ (Picture handscroll of male-male sex).
Even though inaccessible, the ‘original’ Daigo-ji scroll has been referred to in quite a few scholarly works that relate to the history of male-male sexuality in Japan. It is also described in a short entry in the standard encyclopaedia of art published in Japan, (Shinchō) Sekai bijutsu jiten (Shinchōsha, 1985), s.v. ‘Chigo no sōshi’.
Iwata Jun’ichi, Nanshoku bunken shoshi, Toba-shi, Iwata Sadao, 1973 (based on an unpublished manuscript by Iwata Jun’ichi, 1900-45), pp. 16-17. Iwata famously conducted a lengthy correspondence with the scholar Minakata Kumagusu on the subject of male-male sex – 180 of these letters are included in Minakata Kumagusu zenshū. Iwata mentions that the mounting of the original Daigo-ji scroll was repaired in 1892 and that the title ‘Chigo no sōshi’ may have been devised at that time.
The original Daigo-ji scroll is referred to in Mishima Yukio’s novel Kinjiki (1951, 1953; translated in 1968 as Forbidden Colours).
Dōmoto Masaki discusses the scroll and records the full text, with his own translation into modern Japanese in the magazine Yasō 15, April 1985, pp. 167-188, apparently working from a full copy of the original scroll made by the conservator and sculptor Niiro Chūnosuke (1869-1954). (In about 1930 Niiro made the large copy of the Kudara Kannon statue that is displayed in the BM’s Japanese Galleries.) Expurgated details of Niiro’s copy are reproduced in the article.
Hayashi Yoshikazu & Richard Lane, (Teihon) Ukiyo-e shunga meihin shūsei, vol. 17: Higa emaki ‘Koshibagaki-zōshi’ (Tokyo, Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 1997), p. 20, figs. 21-23 (said to be details of the original Daigo-ji scroll). Lane suggests that the Kamakura period original would be classified as a ‘National Treasure’, were it not for its subject matter (p. 57).
Hashimoto Osamu, ‘Maza maza to nikutai de aru yō na mono – Chigo no sōshi’, Hiragana Nihon bijutsushi 2 (Tokyo, Shinchōsha, 1997), pp. 107-118; the two illustrations on p. 110 appear to be taken from the present copy. Hashimoto gives a synopsis of all five stories contained in the text of the scroll.
Gregory M Pflugfelder, Cartographies of Desire: Male-male sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600-1950 (Berkeley, Univ. of California Press, 1999), pp. 28, 46,74, 239.
Inagaki Taruho, ‘Chigo no zōshi shikai’, Inagaki Taruho zenshū, vol. 4 (Tokyo, Chikuma Shobō, 2001), pp. 404-420.
(T. Clark, Feb. 2013)
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2013 3 Oct - 2014 5 Jan, London, BM, Shunga: Sex and pleasure in Japanese art, 1600-1900
2015 19 Sep-2016 23 Dec, Tokyo, Eisei Bunko Museum, Shunga
2018 25 Sep– 2 Dec, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Desire, love, identity: exploring LGBTQ histories
2018-2019 14 Dec-3 Mar, National Justice Museum, Desire, love, identity: exploring LGBTQ histories (opening changed from previous venue)
2019 15 Mar-26 May, Bolton Museum, Desire, love, identity: exploring LGBTQ histories (opening changed from previous venue)
2019 21 Sep-17 Nov Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum, Dorchester, Desire, love, identity: exploring LGBTQ histories
- Acquisition date
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Asia painting number: Jap.Ptg.Add.1308