|The story below is originally published on Mainichi Daily News by Mainichi Shinbun (http://mdn.mainichi.jp).|
|They admitted inventing its kinky features, or rather deliberately mistranslating them from the original gossip magazine.|
|In fact, this is far from the general Japanese' behavior or sense of worth.|
The Japanese Kama Sutra: Forty-eight ways to bruise your lover 2007,10,15
Asahi Geino 10/18 By Masuo Kamiyama
The traditional term for the various winning techniques in sumo wrestling is "Shijuhatte" --- literally, 48 hands.
While it could be argued that human sex more closely resembles Greco-Roman wrestling than it does sumo, in any case, this same term, "Shijuhatte," can also be applied to the various sexual positions.
The human imagination being infinitely creative, no definitive number has been determined for the total number of different sexual positions possible, even when only limited to one male and one female of the species at the same time.
Had Harley motorcycles existed in the Edo Period (1603-1868), it is almost certain that amorous couples would have grasped their possibilities and done the deed atop the handlebars.
That aside, as historian Koshi Shimokawa writes in Asahi Geino (10/18), the frenzied contortions depicted in the famous old "shunga" (pornographic woodblock prints) are not for the faint-hearted.
Upon poring over a collection of such puerile prints, the late film director Kyoji Kokonoe was determined to try them all, and went so far as to enlist a geisha willing to participate in his experiment.
The geisha was blessed with an extremely pliable physique that enabled spectacular contortions.
But for the average human, Asahi Geino remarks, such sexual acrobatics are an invitation to a few weeks in traction.
Indeed, after an hour of frantic sexual gymnastics, an exhausted Kokonoe concluded, "These racy pictures are to be looked at and enjoyed --- but don't try them at home."
When Katsusuke Suenaga, a director at the Soichi Oya library, was editor of a magazine for married couples in the postwar years, he says he enlisted his wife to attempt all 48 positions.
"I got pretty good at judo in high school and my lower body was well developed. It also helped for my wife to be petite," Suenaga says.
"But frankly, some of these positions are next to impossible. If you try them, you risk wrenching your back."
What's more, isn't the number 48 wildly optimistic, Shimokawa asks rhetorically?
The answer, it seems, lies somewhere in the profound relationship between culture and the putting of theory into practice.
First of all is the matter of the relationship with the cavorting couple, be they a married pair or lovers, since pushing up the number of different positions demands practice and close intimacy.
Interestingly, the famous old "shunga" overwhelmingly depict couples engaging in coitus while still semiclad.
The reason, Shimokawa writes, is because the shunga were originally an "antisocial" exercise.
To wit, the basis of their popularity and wide acceptance by the common folk during the Edo era was in their defiance of social mores, with illicit scenes mocking the privileged classes --- like the one of His Gay Lordship sodomizing a cute young "homo-dachi," or a widow who visits a Buddhist temple to pray for her deceased husband, and winds up being ravished by a lascivious priest.
As such encounters were done on the spur of the moment, outside the bedroom, time did not permit the participants to fully disrobe.
To enhance the absurdity, these momentary flings tended to be shown with the participants in grotesquely contorted positions, whose images eventually became a treasured and enduring part of popular culture.
An old book titled "Koshoku Tabimakura" (the travel pillow of lust) made its appearance in the 1695, the eighth year of the Genroku Period, a time when an illicit sexual relationship could earn the participants a beheading at worst, or a public shaming for three days at the Nihombashi fish market at least.
So the "Tabimakura" became popularized as a instruction guide on how to grab a quickie without getting caught.
The origin of the "48-hands," however, cannot be attributed to Edo culture alone.
Rather, writes Shimokawa, the notion became gradually popularized over a span of several centuries. By 1877, around the time of the Seinan civil war in Kyushu, a set of black and white collages depicting sexual positions was making the rounds in Osaka.
Japan's opening to the West from the mid 19th century also exposed local artists to erotic imports, and according to art scholar Yoshiki Yamamoto, monochrome sets, supposedly by famous artists, began appearing, with captions identifying each of the 48 positions with a colorful name.
(Instead of "missionary position" or "doggy style," they were endowed with such colorful, figurative terms as "drizzling tea-grinding mill," "duck neck" and "tight-fitting brocade.")
After the Pacific War, Tetsu Takahashi (1907-1971), a leading scholar of sexuality, arranged for models to pose in some of the positions on behalf of the Japan Life Psychology Society (which he founded in 1941).
His motives were said to be twofold.
One was that in the postwar period, numerous unethical publishers emerged selling crude, "unauthorized" versions of the 48 positions using a Kinetoscope, and he wanted to be able to authenticate the real thing so as to leave behind an accurate historical record.
Takahashi's second motive was that Japan's most extensive collections of porno photographs, which had been owned by popular authors Rampo Edogawa and Junichiro Tanizaki, had been incinerated by their families.
Among the lost items was said to be a rare set of photographs of a couple in the 48 positions, shot aboard a ship in Hiroshima harbor around the time of the time of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), which may have been the first of its kind.
Much to Takahashi's regret, these precious artifacts too went into the flames, and, as a result of shame and prudishness, priceless historical artifacts concerning Japan's sexual culture have been callously destroyed.
The true origin of the "48 hands" as it applies to sex, Asahi Geino sighs, remains obscured in the mists of time. (By Masuo Kamiyama, contributing writer)
（Mainichi Japan） October 15, 2007