Friday, February 12, 2010

Learn History From Nyohanboh: The Defiler Monk

Title: The Defiler Monk (女犯坊)
Serialized in: Erotopia
Artist: Fukushima Mashima

Writer: Kai Takizawa

Genre: Historic flesh bomb

“If the stalk of a man is the root of life and the valley of a women the origin of the cosmos, than anything barring their union is an abomination in the eyes of the Buddha”

Thus spoke Ryusui, protagonist of Nyohanboh, Masami Fukushima’s Buddhist sexual adventure manga from the mid 70’s, . A Nyohanboh is a monk who has broken his precepts and slept with a women, a title that Ryusui wears with pride. The defiler monk travels the land spreading his doctrine of free love while crushing non-believers and the Shogun’s many lap dogs. Mighty and stoic, our virile hero laid the groundwork for the muscle-bound solitary wanderers who came later, such as Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star and Guts from Berserk. Yet while other heroes have martial arts or brute strength to rely on, Ryusui brings his foes to their knees with nothing more than throbbing sutras and inexhaustible potency.

1796 was a bad year for deviant monks. On August 16th, the Edo government cast a dragnet to snatch monks slinking home from brothels in the early morning hours. Altogether 67 monks were apprehended, fettered, and placed on display for three days on Nihon-Bashi for public humiliation. This punishment was merely a symbolic precursor to their excommunication and the shame of being caught.

Nyohanboh begins its fiction with this documented fact. Many of Ryusui’s escapades are taken from the lurid pages of Japan’s history. The manga is a time capsule preserving the most heinous laws and punishments that the nation would rather forget. Which is precisely the reason I’m sharing them with you!

National law barred monks from indulging in meat, alcohol, or women—especially women. Not because these things cloud the mind with earthly desires, the very thing which Buddhism seeks to expunge, but because they are impure. If this strikes you as misogynistic, you’ll rejoice in Ryusui's exploits that spit in the face of institutionalized conventions by reinserting sexual freedom back into the faith, one nun at a time.

Such prohibitions against women were not limited to intercourse. They were barred entry from temples for fear that they would distract the monks, but also because their menstrual blood was said to defile the holy inner sanctum. Koya-Ji, a major temple in the Shingon sect, maintained this restriction until 1872. The seven trails leading up the mountain were each barricaded by a Nyonin-Do, or women’s temple, which served to intercept those who would desecrate the demarcated ground. Let’s see what Ryusui has to say about this nonsense!

During his wanderings, he encounters a mother with her son attempting to climb Mount Koya to reunite with her husband, a monk who has fled beyond her reach into the depths of the temple. Ryusui’s initial attempts to indoctrinate the woman are cut short when he realizes she is suffering from late stage tuberculosis. In his infinite pity he decides to fulfill her dying wish. He delivers the boy to his father, and, in delicious Dante-esque irony, drowns him in a bucket of his wife’s coughed-up blood while his gay lover watches on in impotent horror. Perhaps they were right about the menstrual thing after all.

If bureaucracy exists as the most efficient way to pass the buck, than the Shima Nagashi, or Island Banishment system, is the most efficient way to pass the executioner’s axe. On paper, Shima Nagashi is reserved for crimes too minor for the death penalty but too weighty for jail time, such as larceny and aggravated assault. In reality, the system allowed politicians a means to do away with undesirables without getting their hands dirty. The hopelessly destitute living hand to mouth, the familyless drifters adopted by the Yakuza, those who failed to contribute to the group—These were the people who, lacking the social influence and wealth to buy the courts, found themselves swept under the rug and shipped off to remote islands to live out the rest of their days.

Similarly, no one wants the weight of a dead monk on their conscious, even an impious one. Nyohanboh of high social standing were sent to the most distant of locales as an example to the rest of the clergy. But the logistics of ferrying prisoners across unforgiving seas hide the sinister truth. One in three boats sent to the far isles capsized along the way, meaning that those sentenced to Shima Nagashi were essentially given a death penalty with a 66% chance of error. Heaven forbid you be later pardoned for your crimes and invited to tempt fate once more in returning to the mainland. Off the record, this was a convenient way to deal with political enemies.

Ryusui’s transgressions hardly went unnoticed, and he found himself exiled to Sado Island, renowned as most brutal of all Shima Nagashi destinations. I’m sure you’re wondering, “How did he get captured if he’s such a bad ass?” Let me set the record straight—He wasn’t captured so much as he willfully volunteered to subject himself to Hell on Earth for the sake of aesthetic training. Ryusui found himself surrounded by absolute squalor. Food scarcity had driven many to cannibalism, with aborted fetus as the hour ‘devours. The souls of the living were beyond saving. Instead, he opted to liberate those whom had died, binding their remains into a raft of bones upon which he sailed back to the mainland where the deceased could finally rest, vindicated.

In reality conditions in exile were livable, if not pleasant. Individuals were free to spend their time as they saw fit, so long as they acted within the law. Those who had grown up in poverty experienced many positive firsts. Convicts received their own field to tend to, and with it a means to finally contribute to the group. Ironically they were allowed to participate in society only after being torn away from it.

Sado Island was an exceptional case, however. The discovery of gold deposits transformed the prison colony to an off-shore labor camp, and not all those sent to mine the mountains came back to tell of it.

The island was also once home to Nichiren, who was exiled in 1272 for his radical teachings that challenged established doctrine and the government. Like Ryusui, he was vocal in his view that Buddhist doctrine had been corrupted by those in power to further tighten their control over the populace. In hindsight, his precepts went on to be misappropriated by Sokka Gakkai, so perhaps his temporary exile wasn’t entirely unwarranted.

More severe acts called for more severe punishment. If intercourse alone was enough to get you exiled, then adultery and rape were grounds for death. Gokumon was the favored method of execution by the Shogunate. The guilty were decapitated in a public execution, than had their head spiked onto a special stand to be displayed for three days and two nights, usually in front of a castle or jail.

In the manga, Ryusui conspires with his loyal hunchback assistant, Iwamatsu, to usurp power from his temple’s high monk who enforces punishment for Nyohanboh. Ryusui slips a home-milled aphrodisiac into the abbot’s tea, sending into a frenzy that results in him raping a girl paying respects at her ancestors’ gravesite. The executioner’s sword is swift to respond.

Ryusui's rise to power has begun.

We still have much to learn from the defiler monk.

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