Organized Panel Session
In the monastic culture of medieval Japan, highborn boy acolytes, chigo, played an important dual role as religious idols and cultural aidoru (young entertainers). To become idols, the youths underwent an elaborate esoteric rite and were reborn as the bodhisattva Kannon. To become aidoru, they were trained in music and dance. Chigo’s performances were some of the major attractions of the time, often showcased as the finale of important religious ceremonies, and many historical records and paintings center on the image of these aidoru on stage.
Through the established quid pro quo known as the “chigo system,” the high priest gave the boy a premier education, while the chigo servied his master as attendant, entertainer, and lover. The youth’s family and the monastery developed politico-social codependency through this tradition, much like arranged marriage, except for the chigo system’s brevity and impossibility of procreation.
Although preexisting research on the chigo system mostly focused on the direct trade of an education for the chigo and sexual labor for the priest, this paper illuminates a more indirect yet potentially more powerful form of transaction. For the masters, the chigo’s public performances became a site for inciting envy and mimetic desire in the men in the audience, greatly elevating the priest’s status. The chigo also received instant gratification by being the object of erotic gaze. The boys thus lived a life of aidoru briefly during their extended youth and swiftly graduated before their prime expired, evoking the image of aidoru in today’s Japan.