The Beautiful Way of The Samurai:

Toshiro Mifune, the popular actor famed for his characterizations of quick-witted, taciturn samurai, never uttered a word about it. Akira Kurosawa, the well-known movie director, kept inscrutably mum. Not one of the many hundreds of samurai movies made in the past century even as much as hinted at it nanshoku, the “love of the samurai”*. From its pivotal position in the education, code of honor, and erotic life of the samurai class, the love of youths has sunk below the level of the untouchable to the level of the unmentionable, truly “the love that dare not speak its name”. But the indelible fact remains that one of the fundamental aspects of samurai life was the emotional and sexual bond cultivated between an older warrior and a younger apprentice, a love for which the Japanese have many names, as many perhaps as the Eskimo have for snow.

The samurai often called it bi-do, “the beautiful way”, and guarded the tradition jealously.

Myths about the Samurai:

Myth #26 - Samurai were all macho, masculine and heterosexual

False — Homosexuality was an integral part of samurai life and was actively and cooperatively practiced. Although very few of the hundreds of samurai movies made in Japan hardly hinted at it; “nanshoku, the love of the samurai.” The indelible fact remains that one of the fundamental aspects of samurai life was the emotional and sexual bond cultivated between an older warrior and a younger (male) apprentice. Although women were deemed important because they continued the family line, many samurai preferred men for their emotional and physical relationships.

How true is this? Was homosexuality was an integral part of samurai life? Was it an openly acknowledged practice?

  • 2
    As a side note, Eskimos have roughly the same number of words for snow as the english language.
    – Nikko
    Nov 30, 2012 at 10:28
  • 1
    @Nikko someone ought to ask a skeptics question about that!
    – Golden Cuy
    Dec 12, 2012 at 21:50

1 Answer 1


TLDR : Yes, it was common enough and mostly openly acknowledged.

For example, there is a pretty famous book the 男色大鑑 Nanshoku Okagami, from the 15th century, (the great mirror of male love) from the very famous poet Ihara Saikaku that spoke about homosexual stories between samurais (and kabuki actors and others).

From wikipedia's article on Homosexuality in Japan :

Military same-sex love

From religious circles, same-sex love spread to the warrior (samurai) class, where it was customary for a boy in the wakashū age category to undergo training in the martial arts by apprenticing to a more experienced adult man. The man was permitted, if the boy agreed, to take the boy as his lover until he came of age; this relationship, often formalized in a "brotherhood contract", was expected to be exclusive, with both partners swearing to take no other (male) lovers. This practice, along with clerical pederasty, developed into the codified system of age-structured homosexuality known as shudō, abbreviated from wakashūdo, the "way (do) of wakashū". The older partner, in the role of nenja, would teach the wakashū martial skills, warrior etiquette, and the samurai code of honor, while his desire to be a good role model for his wakashū would lead him to behave more honorably himself; thus a shudō relationship was considered to have a "mutually ennobling effect".

Anyway, the attitude toward homosexuality has always been quite different from the western world.

The historical words for describing the practice (in general, not only regarding samurais) are usually nanshoku (男色), shudō (衆道) and wakashudō (若衆道).

To better understand the concept, I'll add that shudō 衆道 (which is commonly translated as homosexuality) is composed by the kanji SHU with kun reading (kun-yomi) oo.i, with the meaning of many, great numbers (ooi it's the common adjective to say "many", even if the kanji is rarely used), and DOU, kun reading michi, which is road, the same as in judo, taekwondo, kendo, bushido ecc.

Waka 若 is simply the kanji for young.

Nanshoku 男色, translated literally, would be male-color.

  • 1
    And if someone was wondering, I have that book at home, because was part of my university studies...
    – Duralumin
    Nov 29, 2012 at 8:44
  • 3
    for what class?
    – Chad
    Dec 4, 2012 at 19:53
  • @Chad Classical Japanese Literature.
    – Duralumin
    Dec 12, 2012 at 10:57
  • Lol! Not an easy reference to recognize!
    – Duralumin
    Dec 13, 2012 at 7:56
  • "different from the western world" -- See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_Band_of_Thebes
    – ChrisW
    Dec 13, 2012 at 23:09

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