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Which Metaphor Is Represented By These Gay Soldiers?

Which Metaphor Is Represented By These Gay Soldiers?

In the catalogue of the British Museum this image has been aptly described as ‘Buggering the Russian’. Both protagonists are infantry soldiers (the Russian has a rifle with a bayonet) of respectively the Japanese and Russian army.

Pointed Nose

The Russian soldier has the characteristic features as seen by the Japanese, with a pointed nose, white skin, and reddish hair and moustache. These details were most probably mimicked from the cliched manner of depicting the Westerners as ‘red-haired’, or ‘komojin‘, in Japanese prints.

gay soldiers

Fig.1. ‘Gay encounter between a Japanese and Russian soldier‘ (c.1904-05) by an unidentified artist.

Sexual Violence

The print deliberately portrays sexual violence in a battlefield setting. Nonetheless, the illustration is as a whole more nuanced and complicated because of the Russian soldier’s expression, which is somewhat subdued.

Minimalistic

Also fascinating is the fact that this homoerotic encounter takes place in a minimalistic space, with hardly any background illustration except for a group of charging Japanese soldiers, holding a flag (in the other impression Fig.2 the soldiers are Russian).

gay soldiers

Fig.2. Other impression from different woodblocks with text. In this alternate version, the flag in the top is Russian, so the other Russian soldiers are shown fleeing rather than advancing.

Sexually Potent

The image has strong allegorical undertones. The sexually potent Japanese soldier can be interpreted as the masculine and powerful subjugator, Japan.  The Russian soldier is portrayed as the servile recipient who has no other choice than to undergo the violent act of the Japanese victor – i.e., Russia is no longer the dominant force in the region but submissive to the new power, Japan.

Translation dialogue:

Russian: “I think I am going to die!”

Japanese: “I’ll soon deliver the final blow…”

Russian troops (in the background): “Quick, let’s run away!”

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Source: ‘Shunga, Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art‘ issued by the British Museum (Timothy Clark, C. Andrew Gerstle, Aki Ishigami, Akiko Yano…etc.)

Comment Section

2 thoughts on “Which Metaphor Is Represented By These Gay Soldiers?


By Peter Cattanach on 22 February 2019

Anal intercourse bewteen 2 consenting adults can be very tender and intimate. The faces in the woodblock do show exquisite tenderness to me. “I think I am going to die” can mean “I think I am going to die of pleasure”. “ l’ll soon deliver the final blow” could mean “I am going to come ”. So to me it says there can be tenderness and sexual pleasure between two human beings rising above the violence of nationalistic political war.


By Marijn on 22 February 2019

Thanks a lot for your feedback and insights Peter. What is so fascinating about this piece, also emphasized by the alternate version, is the ambivalence both textual and visual.

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