Travel books were popular in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1867). During this time common people lived very restricted lives, and one of the few forms of entertainment that allowed freedom was travel. Additionally, all people were expected to make the pilgrimage to Ise at least once in their lifetime, and therefore they had a pious excuse for enjoying the freedom of travel and release from their daily routines. As a consequence, guidebooks were numerous. Such guidebooks commonly provided travelers with directions for travel and also included information on local history. They informed the traveler of local craft products and food specialties at every stop along the way. Unusual local customs were also explained.
Jippensha Ikku adds to this guidebook format the element of farcical humor. He does this in several ways. In Hizakurige, which has also been translated as Shanks’ Mare, his most common technique is the device of having the supposedly sophisticated Edoites traveling through the countryside, showing they know nothing of the local customs. Never willing to admit their ignorance, they always end up making a mess of things and embarrassing themselves.
An example of this ignorance of local customs is found in the bath scene at Odawara. Seeing the wooden board floating on top of the bath, Yaji supposes this is a lid to keep the water warm. He does not realize he is supposed to stand on it to protect his feet from the hot bottom of the tub. Instead he finds a pair of toilet clogs to wear into the bath. That he would wear such filthy clogs in water people will bathe in is revolting. When Kita, wearing the clogs, breaks the bottom out of the bath, everyone realizes what a disgusting thing he has done, and he ends up having to pay for the ruined bathtub.
Sometimes it is not...
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