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Describing the Indescribable Fragrance

Autor:   •  November 3, 2018  •  1,550 Words (7 Pages)  •  135 Views

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Buruma also makes the point that sexual behaviors are not something to be ashamed of, especially ones that occurred so long ago. Sharing common practices and their reasoning allows for a better comprehension of sexuality and its basis. By leaving out pieces of history because they may make people uncomfortable, views can be distorted and the past will never be truly represented and understood. At no point did Buruma say that the behaviors of the Edo-Period Japanese were wrong in any way. Instead of passing judgment, he passed along history. Every cultural practice has a basis and relates to others around the world. For example, manga, comic books about romances between young boys, were loved by teenage girls who were passionate about American androgynous icons like David Bowie. These historical practices translate to new ones today, and seeing how they developed and transformed in the past can help people understand their sexuality and make them feel less alone. In today’s society, topics of sexuality are covered commonly in the public eye. In the news, stories on sexual assault, rape, reproductive rights, sexual behaviors, and gender identity are commonplace. With so many laws regarding sex, like Canada’s law that banned the presentation of shunga in the exhibit, sexuality has become a political issue. Many people are dealing with internal struggles, and sharing historical or personal concepts on things such as gender identity may help them feel less alone. There are people that may respond poorly to these topics, but it is better to expose and issue and attend to it than to let it fester internally until it churns into something stronger and more dangerous to deal with. Though the subject matter may vary, people all across the world can share the same desires and values and help each other understand sexuality.

Buruma’s article serves as not only a guide to a brief history of Japanese sexuality and shudo, but as an intervention to the way human sexuality is portrayed in exhibits like this. In Referring to Japanese literary works of the Edo-Period and explaining their main ideas, he proves that the exhibition could skew the way people see and understand shudo. One of the main reasons to look back on history is to learn what people were like and how that impacts their culture in the present day. Limiting the scope of representation just because it makes people uncomfortable does not do these topics justice. While Buruma is firm in his points on the exhibition and what was missing, he does consider the reasoning for leaving out these things. He does not blame the museum or its curators, but rather he asks the reader to consider the bigger idea of shielding viewers from things deemed inappropriate by other cultures. This line of reasoning stops here, leaving readers to decide how they want to proceed in dealing with the presentation of sexually explicit content. Buruma does not discuss the implications of sharing these things more freely, but seems to want to wait and see how people respond. This concept is very complex, but by presenting it through the frame of the exhibition, he shows what historical presentations of sexuality could be like if represented fully and accurately in the way he desires.

1,510 words


“Ian Buruma.” The New York Review of Books,

“A Third Gender Opens May 7 at the ROM.” Royal Ontario Museum,

“A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints.” Royal Ontario Museum,


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