Nine Stages of Decomposition
Kusôzu is a distinctive form of Japanese art that originated in the 13th century and persisted until the late 19th century. The term "kusôzu" literally translates to "painting of the nine stages of a decaying corpse," and the genre typically features sequential depictions of a decaying female cadaver. These works aim to demonstrate the transience of the physical form and the abject nature of the human body, particularly the female form. The visual elements of kusôzu reflect Buddhist meditation practices that focus on the corpse, with the aim of cultivating a sense of aversion to the physical form and the transitory nature of life.
In Buddhism, overcoming sexual desire is seen as a necessary step on the path to enlightenment. Since the female form is viewed as a potent source of desire for men, the meditation on a decaying corpse became a way of discouraging sexual desire and attachment to the physical body. Kusôzu, with their graphic and detailed representations of the stages of decay, was a powerful tool in this regard, reminding viewers of the inevitable decline of the physical form and the fleeting nature of physical beauty.
It is worth noting that some scholars have expressed concerns about the kusôzu's exclusive focus on the female body, seeing it as reflective of misogynistic attitudes in Japanese Buddhist thought. This interpretation argues that the genre served to reinforce gender stereotypes and promote negative views of women in Japanese society. However, others view kusôzu as a subversive and transformative art form that challenged traditional gender roles and norms. Ultimately, the meaning and significance of kusôzu are subject to interpretation and debate.