Santō Kyōden Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sant Kyden (sahn-toh kyoh-dehn) was born in Edo in 1761, the eldest son of Iwase Nobuaki, who was the adopted son of a pawnbroker in Edo. In 1773, his father left the pawnbroker’s family to strike out on his own, and later he became a minor city official. Kyden was apprenticed to print artist Kitao Shigemasa; he also studied chanting and playing the samisen. As an artist’s apprentice he learned to paint well and became acquainted with writers of his day. By the time he was seventeen, he also knew the pleasure quarters of the city. As a wood-block print artist, he became famous in the last twenty years of the eighteenth century. He produced some excellent work, more or less in the manner of his instructor, Shigemasa, but showing flashes of individual technique, power, composition, and use of color. His favorite subjects were the residents of the Yoshiwara, essentially the entertainment or red-light district of Tokyo. Some of the most interesting artworks were the illustrations he did for his own writings. After about ten years, however, he seems to have become so busy with his writing that he gave up painting. Ky{omacr}den[Santo Kyoden]}{$S[A]Ky{omacr}den, Sant{omacr}[Kyoden, Santo];Sant{omacr} Ky{omacr}den} Ky{omacr}den[Santo Kyoden]} Ky{omacr}den[Santo Kyoden]}

Although he published at least one earlier work, Kyden first won popular acclaim with Edo mumare uwaki no kabayaki (vanity and disillusionment). His first attempt to write a type of short story then current and dealing with the pleasure quarters was “Musuko beya” (1785; guide book to behavior in the pleasure quarters). This was a form in which he excelled, but in 1791 he was sentenced to house confinement in handcuffs for fifty days for this type of writing. From this time, Kyden turned to the production of more legitimate fiction (in this realm, however, he was not quite the equal of his contemporary Kyokutei Bakin). Both of Kyden’s wives were former residents of the Yoshiwara; much to everyone’s surprise, both proved to be excellent wives. After his father’s death in 1799, Kyden succeeded to the family business as handbag merchant and had a modest success with handbags made of cloth or paper, decorated with his own illustrations. He also made and sold patent medicines. He died in Edo in 1816.

Santō Kyōden Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Aston, W. G. A History of Japanese Literature. 1899. Reprint. New York: Johnson Reprint, 1966. Includes a brief discussion of Sant Kyden in the context of Japanese literature.

Devitt, Jane. “Sant Kyden and the Yomihon.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 39, no. 2 (1979): 253-274. Discusses the life and the works of Sant Kyden, including his central theme of the samurai class and its values.

Korniki, Peter F. “Nishiki no ura: An Instance of Censorship and the Structure of a Sharebon.” Monumenta Nipponica 32, no. 2 (1977): 153-188. Discusses the historical context of this work, the censorship of sharebon (comic books), and Kyden’s success with the genre.