The Kagema: The Irrepressible Temptation of a Young Male Prostitute
Marijn Kruijff
1 min

The Kagema: The Irrepressible Temptation of a Young Male Prostitute

1 min

Imagine that a child actor like Macauly Culkin would have lived in the Japan of the Edo period (1603-1868). The change would have been great that he would be part of the kagema. These were young male kabuki actors (wakashû, who were in the middle adolescence stage), who were still in training, and often remained backstage, “in the shadows”(kage no ma). Additionally, they also provided sensual services to a mixed male and female clientele.


Kagema were something of a follow-up of the wakashû kabuki culture of the early 17th century. Back then, actors performed on stage and entertained clients at night. This changed after the 1650s, when actors were no longer involved in prostitution. The exception were wakashû actors (the kagema) who continued their sensual supplementary income.

Kagema Women

They were generally employed via the theater teahouses (shibai jaya), and did not appear in official economic records as their female colleagues did. There were also female prostitutes that dressed like kagema to meet the needs of their clients who liked that aesthetic. These females were also called kagema onna (kagema women) or wakashû jôrô (young-male female-prostitutes).

Yoshimitsu with a kagema

Yoshimitsu with a kagema‘ (c.1845) attributed to Kunisada


In the majority of images of man-youth anal intercourse, the youth is being entered from behind. For all the attention Japanese artists paid to the detailed rendering of male and female genitalia in their depiction of heterosexual acts, in these images the youth’s genitalia are often entirely hidden from sight.

Male Desire

When visible, they do not provide the main focus of interest of the design. Rather than emphasizing his genitalia, artists emphasized the elegance of the youth, the fineness of his garments, his deportment and the beauty of his hair, including his forelock, which would be lost when he attained manhood and ceased, in theory at least, to be an object of male desire.

homoerotic art

Kagema with wealthy client‘ (c.1845) attrib. to Kunisada

Ashikage Yoshimitsu

The above koban-sized designs feature the homoerotic adventures of the same kagema wearing a blue kimono who provides his sensual services to wealthy clients, by submitting to anal penetration. The dominating figure with the characteristic hair-due in the first image is most probably the famous shogun and womanizer Ashikage Yoshimitsu, who has a homoerotic escapade.

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Source: ‘The Representation of Male-male Sex in Japanese Erotic Books‘ by Ellis Tinios