A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints | Level 3

May 7, 2016 to November 27, 2016

May 7, 2016 to November 27, 2016

Four hundred years ago in Japan, male youths, called wakashu, were the objects of sexual desire for women and men. Creating a third gender, wakashu looked different from both women and adult men and played distinct social and sexual roles.

The exhibition, A Third Gender, explores the complex system of sexual desire and social expectation from 1603 to 1868 in Edo Japan. Featuring stunning woodblock prints, paintings, illustrated books, kimono, and armour, it tells a pivotal story in the history of human sexuality. Unsettling contemporary North American values, A Third Gender invites you to think differently about gender and sexuality.

A Third Gender Program Series: Past Events

Elements of Sake
May 3, 2016
Join Michael Tremblay for an introduction and guided tasting of sake, designed to demystify and engage. This special evening will explore the basics of sake, its production and history, and the culture that created it.

Japanese Visual Culture: Gender & Sexual Diversity
May 12, 2016
Asato Ikeda, the curator of A Third Gender, will examine the role of male youths in Edo-period Japan, and how this gender and sexuality system can be understood from a contemporary North American persepctive.
Free with Museum Admission. 

It's Complicated: Gender Ambiguity in Early-Modern Japan
June 7, 2016
Explore the roles of gender, sexuality and erotic art in Japanese culture with internationally renowned scholar Joshua Mostow. 
*Please note this lecture will contain explicit images and discussions of a sexual nature, and is not reommended for those under the age of 18.*

Lost in Translation? Gender and Sexuality Across Time and Cultures
June 21, 2016
How do we understand representations of sexuality, including same sex sexuality, across different historical and cultural moments without imposing contemporary norms? Join our panel as they explore concepts surrounding our exhibition A Third Gender.

The Art of Japan
October 16, 2016
Experience the fundamentals of Japanese art in this in-depth workshop lead by ROM Educator George Hewson. This full day workshop includes a guided visit of the exhibition A Third Gender, and lunch.


In the News

At the ROM, an ancient Third Gender informs the present 
Toronto Star

ROM Third Gender Exhibit Explores Japan’s Wakashu
Toronto Guardian

Nikkei Voice

Nikkei Voice

Professor’s Art Exhibit Examines Gender and Beauty in Edo-Period Japan
Fordham University


Related Links

LGBT Japan: Past, Present, Future
ROM Blog

The A Third Gender exhibition and LGBTQ community workshop
ROM Blog

Tattooed Heroes of Edo Period Japan
ROM Blog



Comment by Martin Williams

Please let me know when there is a catalogue available - in case I can't get out to TO to see the show
PS I used to make reproductions of far eastern porcelain for the ROM in the 80s. My favorite was a translucent yellow bowl.

Comment by Andriy Tanatar

I have to say that I was disappointed that the desire to portray wakashu as a sort of institutionalized objects of same-sex desire outran the exhibit material. At the very least, the amount of references to wakashu as essentially gay lovers for older men was not supported by a single exhibited piece; at times, it was comical that very sexual engraving of a wakashu and a men having sex with female prostitutes in a brothel was described as a samurai and a wakashu probably being in a relationship, and a pretty neutral scene of idealized court life was described as a sexual paradise where men were pleasured by both women and wakashu - something that did not match the exhibit.

Tellingly, the only truly homosexual scene in a pretty open exhibit a) was not produced in Edo period and b) involved two females.

I understand that ROM wanted to put a provocative exhibit around the time of Pride, but in this particular case I'd say it was overdone. It's very hard to connect wakashi the object of male desire, as they were portrayed through most of the exhibit, with the actual exhibit pieces, 95% of which portrayed situations of, essentially, young lovers of experienced females - in enough anatomical details to leave no questions about biological gender unanswered.

Comment by Lead Concierge

Thank you for your comment. Your point is well taken. We would have loved to add more images depicting same-sex desire. Unfortunately, our collection does not include any such prints and we were not able to borrow them from other institutions.

Comment by charles traynor

Can you please instruct me on how to purchase a catalog for the 'Third Gender' Exhibit.
Thanks very much.
Charles Traynor