It translates roughly to “beautiful youths” — the young men who played a central role in the social and sexual hierarchy of Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868.)
Apparently anyone familiar with the era will look at the below artworks and immediately recognize many of the figures aren’t the maidens they appear to be.
They are, in fact, “wakashu.”
Featuring over 70 artworks, A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints is the first-ever exhibition in North America to examine the complicated gender and sexual constructs during Japan’s Edo period.
Running through June 11, the exhibition collects woodblock prints, paintings, luxury objects and personal adornments, all centering around the Edo period’s “third gender.”
Given the current political climate and dialogue around gender and the arts, it’s undoubtedly a timely exhibition.
For more information, visit The Japan Society.
Here are some examples:
Images courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, ©ROM