In the 1930s, curators of an exhibit in some Japanese museum planned to display The Kiss, a great sculpture by Auguste Rodin. However, they had to cancel their plans after the authorities considered the sculpture as being indecent for a public viewing. In fact, the authorities did not mind the nudity of people represented in the sculpture. They only demanded that the heads of the representations be covered in one way or another. Needless to say, the curators rejected the demand. The sculpture focused on a kiss, which the Japanese authorities deemed indecent, an offence to the morals of a country whose laws had been widely seen as somewhat lax with regard to sex. The amazing case of The Kiss is one of several examples mentioned in The World according to the Japanese, a book by Donald Ricci. The examples are included in the book to apparently highlight a rather prudish attitude of the Japanese toward kissing.
It is not that the Japanese were completely unaware of a kiss before the nation’s exposure to certain aspects of Western culture took place. Yet the practice had been traditionally seen as a sexual oddity, which lay somewhere in between sophistication and perversity relating to sexual activity. Indeed, the Japanese were not initiated into such things as a “peck on the cheek” in days of old. Reporting on his 1860 trip to the United States, an envoy of the Japanese emperor said he stood aghast every time he saw the locals kissing their loved ones and friends in public. “A lick at your lips” stood for “a kiss on the lips” in a Japanese translation of a European novel published in the early 19th century. Even nowadays the Japanese are likely to use the word kisu (a distortion of the English word “kiss”) when referring to a smooch. The original Japanese term for describing the same thing is still thought to be rather obscene.
Kissing around the world
One may be under the impression that the above interpretation of a kiss stems from cultural peculiarities of the Japanese. However, other nations are no strangers to disgust when it comes to kissing. For instance, some peoples in Africa look upon a kiss with utter squeamishness. In the meantime, the Eskimos and Malayans normally rub their noses against one another to express love and affection. The Aborigines of Australia press their foreheads against one another for the same purposes.
All in all, there is a large variety in the use of a kiss in different cultures, if the term “use” is applicable in this case. All the varieties of a kiss have probably one thing in common: touching another person with one’s lips is never meant to show mischief or enmity. A kiss is always designed to show the emotions that are invariably positive e.g. love and passion, tenderness, bliss, reverence etc. It stands to reason that Judas kiss has become a symbol of one’s treachery and blasphemy. Aside from betraying Jesus Christ, Judas Iscariot made a mockery of the sacred symbolism of a kiss in the process.
In the animal kingdom
Taking into account that the sociocultural phenomenon of a kiss is universally applicable, its roots seem to be biological in nature. In fact, we are talking about the importance of sniffing, licking and sucking among animals.
Two animals usually go sniffing at each other as they interact prior to mating. Not unlike humans, some apes even perform an openmouthed kiss with tongue contact, swapping saliva. It is thought that the animals do their bit of French kissing for the purpose of “examining” genetic material in order to find a possible immune flaw that can decrease the chances of survival for their offspring.
Strangely enough, licking is not necessarily related to mating in the animal world. On the other hand, licking is always one of the terms of endearment used by animals. First, females lick their offspring clean. Second, animals also engage in licking at each other’s fur to get rid of parasites as they frolic in the grass etc. Third, a lower-rank female species would allow a dominant male to lick up her body to tender her notice of submission and avert his excessive aggressiveness. Things look pretty obvious when it comes to sucking. Every baby learned to derive pleasure by sucking at his mother’s breast.
Putting things in proper order
The ancients are thought to have had three varieties of a kiss i.e. a friendly kiss, a “noble” kiss on the lips, and an intimate kiss. The Indian erotic treatises contain the descriptions of tens, if not hundreds of kissing techniques. We will try to make another classification by putting kisses in order according to the meaning normally associated with this graceful gesture.
Translated by Guerman Grachev