Featuring stunning woodblock prints, samurai armour, a kimono, screen paintings, lacquerwork, and illustrated books, the exhibition explores issues of gender and tells a pivotal story of sexuality in Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868). A Third Gender is the first North American display on wakashu. Four hundred years ago in Japan, a complex social structure existed in which gender involved more than a person’s biological sex. Age, position in the sexual hierarchy, and appearance were also considered. Fundamental to this structure were youths termed wakashu. Neither “adult man” nor “woman”—each a separate gender—wakashu were objects of desire for both, playing distinct social and sexual roles. Constituting a third gender, they are visually represented in these Edo period woodblock prints.
The exhibition features approximately 60 woodblock prints (ukiyo-e), visually representing wakashu. Produced since the 8th century in Japan, woodblock prints, created collaboratively by a designer, engraver, printer, and publisher, became popular in the 17th century. The exhibition’s prints were created in early 18th to mid19th centuries by major ukiyo-e masters including Okumura Masanobu, Suzuki Harunobu, and Kitagawa Utamaro.
Royal Ontario Museum Website