Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 554

Jippensha Ikku (jihp-pehn-sah ee-kew) wrote a total of fifty-four works, the most famous of which is his Tkaidch hizakurige. In his youth Ikku served in the household of the feudal Lord Odagiri. Sometime in his middle twenties he resigned and set out on his wanderings. At one time he lived in the house of a story chanter. He married into the family of a lumber merchant, but the marriage soon ended in divorce. His first literary work, a puppet play he coauthored under the pseudonym Chikamatsu Yoshichi, was published in 1789 when he was twenty-four.{$S[A]Ikku Jippensha;Jippensha Ikku}

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In the fall of 1794 Ikku went to Edo (later Tokyo) and stayed in the house of a paper merchant, where he is said to have worked at the trade of making paper. In 1795 he published a novel he illustrated himself. The work, called the Shingaku tokeigusa (around the clock with Heart Studies), dealt with a prostitute of the Nightless City of Edo (the Yoshiwara) who became a devotee of the then prevalent Shingaku (Heart Study) movement, an attempt to combine Buddhism and Shinto in the interest of Chinese philosophy and ethics, and who served twelve customers, one for every hour of the night. The work was an overnight success. From this time he produced a flood of works, and in 1802, when the Hizakurige (or Shanks’ Mare) series appeared, he hit the height of his popularity. So popular was this series that it was reputed to have increased the price of paper in Edo.

To get material for this series he made a number of journeys along the roads he described. About 1802, or a few years earlier, he married into a second family but was again divorced. He married a third time and had a son and daughter. He read widely and was a comic poet of some fame as well as a calligrapher and painter. Toward the end of his life he suffered a stroke from excessive drinking and lost the use of his hands and legs. Never having amassed a fortune, he died in straitened circumstances in Edo, after having been supported during his last years by his daughter, who had become a dancing instructor.

Because of the humorous nature of the Shanks’ Mare series, the impression arose that Ikku was a cheerful, humorous person, but such does not seem to have been the case. During his travels he was busy taking notes at the various tea shops he visited, and he seldom engaged in conversation with his fellow travelers. When his daughter was desired by a certain feudal lord as a concubine, Ikku refused the nobleman’s request. When it was written of him that at one time he had worked as a gatekeeper at a certain Buddhist temple during his youth, he took it as an affront to his character. It seems to have been his observation of the frailties and inconsistencies of human nature that led to what was perceived as humor. As a writer of humor, which gives him an important position in the history of Japanese literature, he is often ranked with Kyokutei Samba (1776-1822), but their natures were entirely different. Samba was reasoning and logical, whereas Ikku was passionate and emotional. Samba’s humor was one of irony and cynicism, whereas Ikku’s was robust and earthy.

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