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Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 182

Saikaku Ihara was a vivacious, witty, and energetic member of the merchant class. Although he was neither a learned man nor a sophisticated craftsman, he founded a popular school of writing and is now recognized as one of Japan’s most successful authors. Literacy was widespread in seventeenth century Japan, printing was efficient, and books were cheap; consequently, there was a large and somewhat unrefined reading public hungry for entertaining literature. After an unsuccessful beginning as a composer of haiku, Saikaku turned to writing novels. His fast-paced, witty, realistic, and often salacious sketches of contemporary life and manners were so successful that they came to serve as models for future generations of Japanese writers. Although he did write some moral and instructional tales, he is particularly remembered for the licentiousness of his novels; some are reputed to be too explicit for translation. He was a prolific writer who left the world numerous volumes of tales, novels, and sketches. The Life of an Amorous Man and its companion piece, Koshoku ichidai onna (1686; The Life of an Amorous Woman, 1963), are among his best-known works.

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