Beautiful Nudity 美しいヌード

I spend most of my time these days speaking Japanese, reading Japanese books, enjoying Japanese theatre, and exploring the main thoroughfares and back streets of the cities and backwaters of… Japan. I love living in Japan and am extremely fortunate to be having the experiences I am. Today I did something quite different for a change.

Somemaru invited me on a trip out to the Kobe City Museum (Kobe shiritsu hakubutsukan), which until June 12 is hosting “The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece from the British Museum.” I was happy to attend this exhibition because, while I am a fan of its theatre and arts, I rarely have the chance to study ancient Greece. Among other things, we viewed numerous beautiful vases and sculptures. I was attracted to the marble sculptures most of all. I grew up seeing many of these works depicted in cartoons and picture books, and later in junior high and high school art and history books. Seeing Greece’s ancient art in person, needless to say, is a completely different experience.

If I had to choose just one sculpture as my favorite today it would be part of the marble sculpture “Two Boys Fighting Over a Game of Knucklebones” for its realism, movement, and humor. I also enjoyed many others, including the famous main attraction, “The Discobolus,” and other art depicting athletes, particularly runners.

I wasn’t aware of the fact that ancient Greek athletes competed in the nude. Asthetics — beauty of the well-toned male body — obviously won over practicality in Greek sports. There are records of early modern Japanese runners — hikyaku couriers — running nude, but in most cases they at least wore waraji (straw sandals) to protect their feet and fundoshi (loincloths) to support and cover the second-most important things they carried. While hikyaku depicted in ukiyo-e and actual photos are shown to have toned legs and bodies, I can’t remember ever coming across a Japanese text that in any way celebrates them for their beauty as the Greeks did their professional athletes. Hikyaku were not professional athletes, though. They were rough, low-class servicemen.

Image property of Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Sumô wrestlers, on the other hand, have long been professional athletes respected and admired for their toned bodies, often featured nude aside from mawashi (sumo belts, like glorified fundoshi). To the untrained Western eye sumô wrestlers appear obese and out of shape, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. They are incredibly fast, agile, and flexible, and most of their weight is made up of brawny muscle. Though ancient Greece’s naked athletes and Japan’s sumô wrestlers are worlds and more than a millenium apart, their physical feats and beautiful nudity were appreciated in similar fashion.

Since this is a blog about Kamiagata Rakugo, I might do well to end here by mentioning there are a number of rakugo stories about sumô, including Hanaikada ([A Stand-in for the Champ] Hanaikada), Kôsuke mochi (Kôsuke’s Mochi Shop [Flourishes Thanks to a Sumo Wrestler]), Kuwagata (Kuwagata [the Small Champ]), and Ôyasu’uri (Cheap Sell [the Sumo Wrestler with an Awkward-but-befitting Name]).

Somemaru shishô, thank you for the opportunity to do some cross-cultural comparison and contrast! A very nice day in Kobe indeed.









Comments コメント

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s