Hirayama Tōgo Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ihara Saikaku (ee-hahr-ah si-kah-kew) was the major writer of popular fiction during the Genroku period (1688-1703), and his novels and short stories are classics in Japanese literature. Despite his fame, there is not much verifiable information about his life. He evidently was born Hirayama Tgo and was reared in Osaka, the son of a wealthy merchant family. It appears that he became heir to the family business and married young, but when his wife died in 1675, leaving him with a blind daughter, he reportedly left his affairs in the care of assistants and took up the life of an itinerant Buddhist pilgrim in 1677, a sign of mourning and a symbolic renunciation of the mundane world.{$S[A]Hirayama T{omacr}go[Hirayama Togo];Ihara Saikaku}{$S[A]Ihara Kakuei;Ihara Saikaku}

He then traveled about Japan, gathering impressions and information later expressed in his writings. He began to write long, epigrammatic, linked haikai poems at age fourteen, and by age twenty, he was proficient enough to be a teacher and judge of such compositions. Writing under the pen name Ihara Kakuei (Ihara may have been his mother’s maiden name), his first published poems probably were four works included in a 1666 collection of haikai compiled by followers of the dominant Teimon school. He then came under the influence of Nishiyama Soin, founder of the Danrin haikai school. The liberal Danrin style appealed to Saikaku’s preference for a more natural style of composition, even though the famous poet Matsuo Bash criticized him for writing in such a vulgar form. Saikaku became famous for participating in yakazu poetry composition marathons. In 1673, he joined an estimated two hundred poets at a twelve-day composition session producing ten thousand works at Osaka’s Ikudama Shrine. Three hundred of Saikaku’s contributions appeared in Ikudama manku (1673; ten thousand verses at Ikudama), his first of a dozen books of poetry and verse criticism. Saikaku’s prolific composition talents enabled him in 1684 to create 23,500 verses in a single day, a feat that earned for him the title Master of the Twenty Thousand Verses.

Perhaps because of factional disputes among Danrin poets following the death of Soin, Saikaku gradually gave up writing haikai (he would resume haikai composition in his later years) and concentrated on writing popular fiction. His haikai-writing talents were resented by some fellow Danrin poets, and he was pejoratively called “Oranda Saikaku” (Dutch Saikaku), a derogatory term ridiculing his eccentricities. Turning from prestigious haikai to fiction, a relatively new form of writing lacking literary prestige, was risky, but at the age of forty, using the name Ihara Saikaku, he published his first work of prose fiction, the fifty-four-chapter The Life of an Amorous Man, a picaresque work inspired by the colorful life of the urban middle class (chnin) and the...

(The entire section is 1215 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Little is known of Ihara Saikaku’s personal life. He was most certainly born in Osaka in 1642, there being sufficient indication that he considered this city to be his hometown. His real name was, according to one source, Hirayama Tgo; Ihara was, most likely, his mother’s maiden name, which he later adopted for his professional name. “Saikaku” is the last of a series of noms de plume that he used. According to the same source, he was a merchant in an unspecified trade who could afford to leave the management of the business to trusted clerks and devote his life to literary pursuits and to travel.

He took an early interest in haikai and is believed to have qualified in his twenty-first year to become a haikai teacher (tenja). In the early 1670’s, he became a disciple of Nishiyama Sin (1605-1682), the head of the Danrin school of haikai and a major challenger to the traditional Teimon school. By 1673, when Ikudama manku was performed, Saikaku had established himself as a leading force under Sin.

Traditionally, haikai poetry is composed in linked sequences by several poets as a ritualized social and literary activity. Saikaku was by no means the first to break from this tradition—there had been others before him, most notably Arakida Moritake (1473-1549), who is credited with Dokugin senku (compiled 1536-1540; a thousand verses composed by one man). Nevertheless, he was the first to compose one thousand verses in a single day in 1675. The occasion was an emotional one: a memorial tribute to his young wife, who had died after a brief illness. Saikaku titled the compilation Dokugin ichinichi senku. This effort was followed in 1677 by Saikaku haikai kuzaku, another solo...

(The entire section is 728 words.)