Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ihara Saikaku’s best-known work is the picaresque novel Kshoku ichidai otoko (1683; The Life of an Amorous Man, 1964). He first won fame as a poet, however, with Ikudama manku (1673; ten thousand verses at Ikudama), a compilation that includes haikai (comic linked verse) of Saikaku and more than two hundred of his associates. His solo haikai performances are recorded in Dokugin ichinichi senku (1675; solo verses, one thousand in one day), Saikaku haikai kuzaku (1677; Saikaku’s haikai, a great many verses), and Saikaku yakazu (1681; Saikaku’s a great many arrows). Saikaku also wrote two puppet plays, Koyomi (calendar) and Gaijin Yashima (triumphant return from Yashima), both of which were staged in 1685.

Ihara Saikaku Achievements

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ihara Saikaku first gained literary repute as a leading member of Osaka’s innovative Danrin school of haikai. Like others in this group, he wrote with verve and abandon. In 1673, he was a central participant in a twelve-day poetry party that produced ten thousand verses; later, prodigious solo poetizing marathons solidified his fame as a poet. Saikaku’s lasting reputation, however, would come from prose fiction. In 1682, he created a new genre, Ukiyo-zshi (books of the floating world) with the publication of his novel Kshoku ichidai otoko, the first of two dozen books written during his last decade. They made him—with haiku poet Matsuo Bash and dramatist Chikamatsu Monzaemon—one of the three dominant figures of Tokugawa literature and earned him a place second only to Murasaki Shikibu, author of Genji monogatari (c. 1004; The Tale of Genji, 1925-1933, 1935) as a premodern Japanese writer of narrative fiction. He gave the chonin (townsmen) heroes and heroines from their own class and made colloquial Japanese a literary language. While his stories sometimes treated the mores of the samurai or Confucian ethics, his most enduring works chronicled with stylistic originality, detached wit, and sharp insight the chief preoccupations of Japan’s new urban class: love and money.

Ihara Saikaku Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Danly, Robert Lyons. “Ihara Saikaku and ‘Opening Night in the Capital.’” The Literary Review 39 (Winter, 1996): 214-215. A translation of the story, accompanied by comments on the problems of translating Saikaku; discusses the difficulty of explaining a temporally distant culture and capturing a fugitive linguistic charm.

De Bary, Wm. Theodore. Introduction to Five Women Who Loved Love. Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle, 1956. An excellent introduction to both Saikaku and the urban environment of large Tokugawa cities such as Osaka, against which most of Saikaku’s fiction is set.

Hibbett, Howard. The Floating World in Japanese Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1959. This volume is an excellent introduction to late seventeenth century society, including the licensed pleasure quarters, and it thus provides the social background of much of Saikaku’s fiction. A chapter is devoted to Saikaku (pp. 36-49), and a sizable portion of his The Life of an Amorous Woman is translated. Illustrations include block prints by artists such as Hishikawa Moronobu and also by Saikaku himself.

Hibbett, Howard. “Saikaku and Burlesque Fiction.” The Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 20 (June, 1957): 53-73. This essay illuminates a central quality in the culture of Tokugawa Japan’s new urban...

(The entire section is 447 words.)