Once upon a time, north of Osaka, about a half-day’s journey on foot, stood the Ninnaji Temple where a venerable Buddhist lived. We’ll call him the priest.
The priest was a respected holy figure, greatly learned in the three mysteries of dharma: the way of the body, speech and mind. His character and his skill with prayers and incantations were widely known. He had one weakness, however, and that was his love of nanshoku: “male eros,” or, literally translated, “male colours.”
Sexual prowess has “nothing to do with one’s piety,” the 14th-century hand scroll and text, Chigo no soshi (Book of Acolytes), helpfully explains. After all, Buddhist priests had every opportunity to enjoy nanshoku. Since Buddhism crossed the sea from China to Japan in the ninth century, age-structured relationships between learned priests and young postulants or acolytes had become the norm. The tradition of monks attending to their charges (and vice versa) was even joked about good-naturedly among the country’s peasantry in much of recorded history. Stick a bunch of men and boys alone on the side of a mountain — what could possibly happen?
At Ninnaji, beautiful youth surrounded the priest, but there was one in particular — we’ll call him the acolyte — who adored him. The acolyte was devoted to the priest, and would lie with him “in the most intimate fashion.”
The Chigo no soshi notes that the priest yearned for his acolyte, but he had had so many sexual encounters throughout his life, that his penis “was like an arrow just brushing against the mountain.” It wouldn’t be a good Japanese story without some sweeping nature metaphors, after all. Time (and erectile dysfunction) make fools of us all.
This saddened the acolyte but did nothing to dampen his ambitions. This is where the hapless hero of this horny tale, Chuta, enters.
Chuta, a young, married man and temple servant, was the son of the acolyte’s nurse. He was summoned every night to help the acolyte prepare for his attempts to offer himself to the priest. “Being old, [the priest] went to sleep early, so there was not much time to embrace the boy before he went to sleep.”
Chuta’s task was to lubricate a dildo with clove oil and insert it into acolyte’s anus in preparation. Chuta would also blow on a piece of charcoal near the acolyte’s bottom — sort of like running a jar under hot water to help loosen the top — before the acolyte was called to the priest’s bed.
“Thus, without any delay, the old priest would insert his penis into the bottom of this boy who had prepared so well in advance,” the Chigo no soshi states. “Such a sincerely devoted acolyte is without parallel. One must regard him as a priceless human being.”
The story is extensively illustrated — no doubt for purely educational purposes. One of the illustrations depicts Chuta attending to the acolyte — completely naked and in a state of marked arousal — and includes an amusing exchange.
“This is hard to endure,” Chuta says. “You don’t go [to the priest] until later, just before he retires. Do you really need me to perform this service for you already, while it’s still afternoon? You’re much too early.”
The acolyte, dedicated in his preparations, responds, “Anyway, stick your finger in.”
Chuta is having none of the acolyte’s flippancy. “Since I perform this service every night, I sometimes think, ‘Enough already!’ I’ve already told you this confidentially. It’s too much. You can’t understand my feelings. You’re insensitive. This time I’d like real satisfaction.”
This is starting to sound like a Grindr exchange with that boy who’s all pics and no tricks.
“Well, how about sticking [the dildo in] one sun?” the acolyte responds.
“I guess it can’t be helped, can it?” poor, beleaguered Chuta replies, complying. “My thing gets erect, and there’s nothing to do but masturbate. So my penis gets weak, and my wife reviles me. I’ll endure it, though, and help you out.”
The Chigo no soshi is one of Japan’s oldest and well-known illustrations of nanshoku, dated 1321 CE, containing 18 scenes of Buddhist acolytes with temple servants or priests; “five short, ribald narratives; and numerous inscribed comments and conversations surrounding the scenes, ” as described above. Like previous coverage of shunga prints, the tale of Chuta and the acolyte’s ass is an exceptional depiction of the way pre-colonial Japanese people dealt with sexually explicit stories: with ambisexual delight, perversion and no small amount of humour.
Luckily for the frustrated Chuta, his story concludes with his final administrations. “This smells good,” he says to the acolyte. “[Excuse me for] talking to you [this way], Master, but isn’t your bottom hard to please? You’re very fond of your bottom, aren’t you? Before you go to the honourable priest, I wonder if you’d let me stick my penis in.”
And they all lived happily ever after.