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A variety of obscure literary references to same-sex love exist in ancient sources, but many of these are so subtle as to be unreliable; another consideration is that declarations of affection for friends of the same sex were common.

Nevertheless, references do exist, and they become more numerous in the Heian period, roughly int the 11th century.

Genji, for his part, or so one is informed, found the boy more attractive than his chilly sister".

The Tale of Genji is a novel, but there are several Heian-era diaries that contain references to homosexual acts.

At the same time, sexual activity with women was not barred (for either party), and once the boy came of age, both were free to seek other wakashū lovers.

Like later Edo same-sex practices, samurai shudō was strictly role-defined; the nenja was seen as the active, desiring, penetrative partner, while the younger, sexually receptive wakashū was considered to submit to the nenja's attentions out of love, loyalty, and affection, rather than sexual desire Among the samurai class, adult men were (by definition) not permitted to take the wakashū role; only preadult boys (or, later, lower-class men) were considered legitimate targets of homosexual desire.

Many such prostitutes, as well as many young kabuki actors, were indentured servants sold as children to the brothel or theater, typically on a ten-year contract.

Relations between merchants and boys hired as shop staff or housekeepers were common enough, at least in the popular imagination, to be the subject of erotic stories and popular jokes.

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The older partner, in the role of nenja, would teach the chigo martial skills, warrior etiquette, and the samurai code of honor, while his desire to be a good role model for his chigo would lead him to behave more honorably himself; thus a shudō relationship was considered to have a "mutually ennobling effect".

Outside of the monasteries, monks were considered to have a particular predilection for male prostitutes, which was the subject of much ribald humor.

Tokugawa commentators felt free to illustrate kami engaging in anal sex with each other.

For example, in The Tale of Genji, written in the early 11th century, men are frequently moved by the beauty of youths.

In one scene the hero is rejected by a lady and instead sleeps with her young brother: "Genji pulled the boy down beside him ...

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