Shizu no odamaki or "The Thread from the Spool": Male Same-Sex Love and the Warrior Ethos in a Nineteenth-Century Historical Tale

Daniele Durante

Abstract


Shizu no odamaki賤のおだまき(trans. The Thread From the Spool), a work of fiction composed presumably in the first half of the nineteenth century by an anonymous author, tells the novelized account of the lives and love story of two historical Japanese bushi 武士 or “warriors,” respectively named Yoshida Ōkura Kiyoie 吉田大蔵清家 (c. 1575-1599) and Hirata Sangorō Munetsugu 平田三五郎宗次 (c. 1585-1599). The two fighters lived in the Warring States period (Sengoku jidai戦国時代, 1467-1600) and died in combat during the “disturbance of Shōnai district” (Shōnai no ran庄内の乱, 1599-1600), one of the many conflicts that took place in this age of constant bloodshed. In presenting their fictionalized biography, Shizu no odamaki operates on two intertwining levels: one romantic, providing an idealized narration of the protagonists’ tie based on the so-called “Way of the Youth” (Wakashudō若衆道), the relationship between an adult man and an adolescent male, and of Sangorō’s juvenile beauty, and one ethical, depicting the characters’ feelings as a powerful catalyzer that assists them in their pursuit of the “Way of the Warrior” (Bushidō武士道). The two Ways, of male same-sex love and combat, thereby support each other in a virtuous circle. In proving the connection between Kiyoie and Sangorō’s sentiments and their commendable behavior as soldiers, the text pursues a didactic end by indicating their amorous and martial deeds as an authoritative example for the contemporaneous reader to emulate.

In the following I provide an annotated translation of Shizu no odamaki. To prepare readers for the text, I offer in the next sections an overview of the lives of the historical Sangorō and Kiyoie figures as well as information about the records from which the narrative draws inspiration. Second, I present an analysis of the main coeval notions and social practices that the title invokes to conceptualize and portray the romantic relation between the two characters. Finally, I insert an outline of the diverging, and often conflicting, ways the narration was received and reinterpreted in the first decades of the Meiji era.


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jll.2022.197



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