Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Yonosuke, “Man of the World,” the son of a wealthy playboy businessman and a courtesan of the pleasure quarter in Kyoto who settle down into domesticity after marriage. Precocious concerning love and sex, Yonosuke has his calligraphy teacher copy down his first love letter at the age of seven. As a teenager, he engages in numerous escapades in his search for pleasures of the flesh. Finally, his father disowns him when he is nineteen years old. For the next fifteen years, Yonosuke engages in a variety of occupations, such as salmon peddler, Shinto priest, wandering singer and actor, male prostitute, manager of male prostitutes, and attendant of rich businessmen. The money he earns is quickly frittered away drinking and visiting women of the pleasure quarter. Although physically attractive, well educated, and personally charming, Yonosuke is not always successful in his quest for love and is several times rejected, is beaten by outraged husbands, and once ends up in jail. After almost dying in a shipwreck, he learns that his father has died and that his mother wants him at home. He returns to become head of his family and receives a gift of twenty-five thousand kan of silver from his mother to do with as he wishes. He immediately decides to use the money to ransom all the courtesans in Japan’s pleasure quarters that he finds appealing. Yonosuke marries after being accepted back into his family, but domestic life does not long satisfy...

(The entire section is 420 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Yonosuke’s escapades are the focus of virtually every page, but Yonosuke is not a particularly interesting or complex individual. Saikaku Ihara was much more concerned with using Yonosuke as a device with which to examine all corners of the gay world than with studying his psyche. Yonosuke is a flat and static character whose commitment to the gay world dominates his life. He is distinguished by his sensitivity to the nuances not only of sensuality but also of etiquette, style, and graciousness. Yonosuke becomes more sophisticated, experienced, and celebrated as he grows older, but he never changes in any essential way. He does go through a few periods of questioning and self-reproach, even of bad dreams and despair, but these moments of doubt pass quickly and seem to have no lasting effect. For all of his sophistication, Yonosuke is finally a superficial, “whimsical, and aimless” man, content to live in and for the moment.

A modern writer might wish to examine the causes of Yonosuke’s ceaseless quest for the new and the pleasing, but Saikaku is content simply to record Yonosuke’s capers and to allow him to enjoy himself. Yonosuke’s “invincible determination,” his resourcefulness, his unquenchable appetite, and the ingenuity and imagination that he employs in the pursuit of pleasure are admirable. In addition, he repeatedly proves to be a generous and pleasant-spirited, though somewhat solipsistic and callous, man. Yonosuke is incorrigible but charming.

The most...

(The entire section is 618 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Hamada, Kengi. Introduction to The Life of an Amorous Man, 1964.

Hibbett, Howard Scott, Jr. The Floating World in Japanese Fiction, 1959.

Hibbett, Howard Scott, Jr. “The Japanese Comic Linked-Verse Tradition,” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. XXIII (1960/1961), pp. 76-92.

Hibbett, Howard Scott, Jr. “Saikaku and Burlesque Fiction,” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. XX (June, 1957), pp. 53-73.

“Koshoku Ichidai Otoko,” in Introduction to Classic Japanese Literature, 1948. Edited by The Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai.