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An Edo Anthology

Literature from Japan's Mega-City, 1750-1850

edited by Sumie Jones with Kenji Watanabe

Publication Year: 2013

During the eighteenth century, Edo (today’s Tokyo) became the world’s largest city, quickly surpassing London and Paris. Its rapidly expanding population and flourishing economy encouraged the development of a thriving popular culture. Innovative and ambitious young authors and artists soon began to look beyond the established categories of poetry, drama, and prose, banding together to invent completely new literary forms that focused on the fun and charm of Edo. Their writings were sometimes witty, wild, and bawdy, and other times sensitive, wise, and polished. Now some of these high spirited works, celebrating the rapid changes, extraordinary events, and scandalous news of the day, have been collected in an accessible volume highlighting the city life of Edo.

Edo’s urban consumers demanded visual presentations and performances in all genres. Novelties such as books with text and art on the same page were highly sought after, as were kabuki plays and the polychrome prints that often shared the same themes, characters, and even jokes. Popular interest in sex and entertainment focused attention on the theatre district and “pleasure quarters,” which became the chief backdrops for the literature and arts of the period. Gesaku, or “playful writing,” invented in the mid-eighteenth century, satirized the government and samurai behavior while parodying the classics. These entertaining new styles bred genres that appealed to the masses. Among the bestsellers were lengthy serialized heroic epics, revenge dramas, ghost and monster stories, romantic melodramas, and comedies that featured common folk.

An Edo Anthology offers distinctive and engaging examples of this broad range of genres and media. It includes both well-known masterpieces and unusual examples from the city’s counterculture, some popular with intellectuals, others with wider appeal. Some of the translations presented here are the first available in English and many are based on first editions. In bringing together these important and expertly translated Edo texts in a single volume, this collection will be warmly welcomed by students and interested readers of Japanese literature and popular culture.

104 illus., 5 in color

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Popular literature as a creation that aims at general, non-elite consumption may go back to the Middle Ages. In Japan, increased literacy among commoners during the late eighteenth century and through the first half of the nineteenth century encouraged an exuberant growth of literary genres for the masses. ...

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Introduction: The Production and Consumption of Literature in a Flourishing Metropolis

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pp. 1-38

The expression “popular literature” assumes readership not restricted by class or education. Its authorship could belong to scholarly, religious, or noble classes, but the writing is aimed at a broader audience. In this sense, popular literature in any culture can go back to the Middle Ages or earlier, and Japan is no exception. ...

Notes for the Reader

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pp. 39-42

Part I. Playboys, Prostitutes, and Lovers

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Seki the Night Hawk

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pp. 45-59

Seki the Night Hawk (Sekifujinden, three volumes, written in 1749 and published in 1753) belongs to the group of the earliest and the most sophisticated works of sharebon. Like many masterpieces of the genre, this text treats the flourishing fashion and authority of Yoshiwara with irony. ...

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A Lousy Journey of Love: Two Sweethearts Won't Back Down

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pp. 60-64

This verse, written in a rhythmic alternation of hexameters and pentameters, forms part of the Blown Blossom and Fallen Leaves (Hika Rakuyō, 1783), a posthumous compilation of the works of Hiraga Gennai (1728–1779), put together by Ōta Nanpo (1749–1823) as a tribute to his friend and colleague. Nanpo brought together several short and witty, but unpublished, pieces. ...

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At a Fork on the Road to Hiring a Hooker

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pp. 65-75

Umebori Kokuga (1750–1821) is the pen name of Sorimachi Yozaemon, a samurai serving at the Edo mansion of Kururi Domain in Kazusa. Although Kokuga began publishing light fiction on the side, the censorship of the Kansei Reforms (1787–1793) kept him away from writing sharebon. ...

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Intimations of Spring: The Plum Calendar

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pp. 76-100

Intimations of Spring: The Plum Calendar (Shunshoku Umegoyomi, four parts containing twelve volumes divided into twenty-four scenes, 1832–1833), by Tamenaga Shunsui (1790–1843), is the most representative of works in the late- Edo genre of ninjōbon, or “sentimental books.” Mostly serialized, ninjōbon were aimed at a young and female readership, ...

Part II. Ghosts, Monsters, and Deities

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One Hundred Monsters in Edo of Our Time

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pp. 103-112

Penalties for violating the publication laws that were repeatedly issued ranged from official reprimands and fifty days in handcuffs to confiscation of assets and exile. The most extreme case was Baba Bunkō (1718–1759), the only writer throughout the entire Edo period to be executed for the crime of violating publication laws. ...

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Rootless Grass

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pp. 113-123

Hiraga Gennai (1728–1779), son of a low-ranking retainer of Sanuki Domain, was appointed by Lord Matsudaira Yoritaka (1711–1771) as the domain’s herbalist. Under the lord’s sponsorship, he went to Nagasaki in 1752 to study herbology and mineralogy and later moved on to Edo where he added Chinese studies and medical science to his repertoire. ...

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Thousand Arms of Goddess, Julienned: The Secret Recipe of Our Handmade Soup Stock

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pp. 124-136

When Thousand Arms of Goddess, Julienned (Daihi no Senrokuhon), an adult comicbook by Shiba Zenkō (1750– 1793), was published in 1785, disarticulation of the human body firmly gripped the Japanese imagination. Practitioners of Western science in Nagasaki had begun performing the first autopsies over the preceding decade or so, ...

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The Monster Takes a Bride

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pp. 137-167

The Monster Takes a Bride (Bakemono no Yomeiri, 1807) is an illustrated comic tale in which traditional marriage customs are reinvented in the context of a monster world. During the Edo period, weddings were often elaborate rituals marking the union of two families. ...

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Epic Yotsuya Ghost Tale

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pp. 168-182

A certain cynicism may be said to have prevailed in the popular psyche during the Bunka-Bunsei era (1804–1830) when the playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV (1755–1829) flourished. True to the appellation of “the age of decadence,” crime and delinquency afflicted society. ...

Part III. Heroes, Rogues, and Fools

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Playboy, Grilled Edo Style

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pp. 185-186

Santō Kyōden (1761–1816) was not only the most popular author but also one of the esteemed tsū dandies of the day. The son of a successful pawnshop owner, he began his career as an artist with the studio name of Kitao Masanobu. After working as a book illustrator, he made his teenage debut as an author of a “yellow book,” ...

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Osome and Hisamatsu: Their Amorous Histor–Read All About It!

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pp. 219-246

With innovative stage tricks, elaborate theatricality, and male derring-do, Edo kabuki appealed to an audience inclined toward the violent, the scandalous, and the weird. Perhaps the most “Edo-esque” playwright, Tsuruya Nanboku IV (1755– 1829) obliged the tastes of the popular audiences of his time with startling stage devices and outrageously evil and mysterious characters. ...

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The Tale of the Eight Dog Warriors of the Satomi Clan

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pp. 247-259

The Tale of the Eight Dog Warriors of the Satomi Clan (Nansō Satomi Hakkenden, nine books, ninety-eight volumes, 1814– 1842), a historical novel in 106 volumes and over 180 chapters serially published through twenty-eight years, is one of the longest narratives ever written in Japanese. ...

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The Tale of the Eight Dog Warriors of the Satomi Clan: The Death of Funamushi

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pp. 260-281

The twenty-eight years of the serialized publication of The Tale of the Eight Dog Warriors of the Satomi Clan spanned the author Kyokutei Bakin’s late middle age and senescence, a period during which he experienced a number of personal tragedies, most notably the death of his much-loved son and the loss of his eyesight. ...

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Eight Footloose Fools: A Flower Almanac

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pp. 282-300

Eight Footloose Fools: A Flower Almanac (Hanagoyomi: Hasshōjin, five books including fifteen volumes) was written by Ryūtei Rijō (?–1841) and first published in 1820, to be followed by additional books by other writers until 1848. The author’s life remains obscure. ...

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Benten the Thief

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pp. 301-322

The foremost creator of rogues on stage was Kawatake Mokuami (1816–1893), the last great kabuki playwright in the traditional mode who continued to lead the theatrical world well into the Meiji period. He is nicknamed the “bandit playwright,” due to his many successful portrayals of thieves, murderers, pimps, and other lowlife who populated Edo ...

Part IV. City and Country Folks

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Mr. Senryū's Barrel of Laughs, Edo Haikai Style

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pp. 325-340

Senryū, as a generic designation, was derived from Karai Senryū (1718–1790), the pen name of a man who achieved celebrity not by composing his own poetry but rather by judging the compositions of others. Senryū’s career as a literary arbiter began in 1757, when he sponsored his own public tournament of verse, ...

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"The Housemaid's Ballad" and Other Poems

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pp. 341-348

The fashion of “mad verse” kyōshi is primarily a later-Edo phenomenon and attained its zenith during the decades immediately preceding and following the year 1800. The works by Dōmyaku Sensei, the patriarch of the form in Kyoto, reflect the comical, ridiculous, or grotesque components of existence. ...

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In the World of Men, Nothing But Lies

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pp. 349-363

The core of the “funny books” (kokkeibon) corpus is a series of texts that began appearing in the early 1800s, filling the comic prose niche, which had been left empty since the decline of the “books of manners” (sharebon) and “yellow books” (kibyōshi) genres in the wake of the Kansei Reforms of the 1790s. ...

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The Floating World Barbershop

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pp. 364-376

Shikitei Sanba (1776–1822) was the son of a woodblock print carver. After several changes of residence and profession, he established himself in 1806 as the proprietor of a medicine shop, which scored a major success with a brand of face lotion called “Edo no Mizu,” or “Edo Water,” capitalizing on the glory of Edo’s city water, known for its quality. ...

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Tales from the North

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pp. 377-388

Tadano Makuzu (1763–1825) proved her talent in many literary genres, but it is foremost through the discovery of the political treatise Solitary Thoughts (Hitori Kangae, 1818–1819) in 1980 that Makuzu has come to attract a wider audience of historians and gender specialists as a woman thinker who expressed her thoughts boldly. ...

Part V. Artists and Poets

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On Farting

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pp. 391-399

Here is another work by satirist Hiraga Gennai, alias Fūrai Sanjin (1728–1779). Just as his Rootless Grass took advantage of the news of popular actors’ deaths, this essay, On Farting (Hōhi-ron, part I, one volume, 1774) cashes in on the fame of an actual showman who had recently become a popular hit in the Ryōgoku showbiz district earlier that year. ...

The "Peony Petals" Sequence

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pp. 400-412

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Peasants, Peddlers, and Paramours: Waka Selections

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pp. 413-429

Waka, originally a generic term for various types of indigenous verse, most commonly refers to tanka: thirty-one syllables in lines of five-seven-five-seven-seven syllables, the form that will be treated exclusively here. The earliest extant collection of Waka, the eighth-century Collection of Myriad Leaves (Man’yōshū), ...

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Icicle Teardrops and Butterfly Wings: Popular Love Songs

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pp. 430-440

Early modern songs chiefly derive from jōruri and nagauta songs performed in puppet shows and on the kabuki stage. Some narrated the storyline of a play and others had a more lyrical bent as they accompanied dance and romantic lovers’ journey (michiyuki) scenes. ...

Part VI. Tourists and Onlookers

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Comparisons of Cities

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pp. 443-464

Edo-period Japan boasted many large and prosperous cities. The greatest were undeniably Edo, Kyō, and Osaka. The last of these retains its Edo-period name (though written with different characters), while the former are now known as Tokyo and Kyoto. These were referred to as the Three Ports ...

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Songs of the Northern Quarter

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pp. 465-476

Songs of the Northern Quarter (Hokurika, 1786) is the title of a series of thirty seven-character quatrains describing pleasures of Yoshiwara. The author, Ichikawa Kansai (1749–1820), was an important scholar of Chinese and one of the pre-eminent Trained in the Hayashi school of Confucian Studies ...

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Outlandish Nonsense: Verses on Western Themes

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pp. 477-479

There was of course no recognized genre of Western-related poetry, but still, reading through Edo-period anthologies and the like, it is surprising how often the theme comes up. “Holland”— the only European country to enjoy official trading rights in Japan throughout the Edo period—meant many things in the eyes of the people of the time. ...

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An Account of the Prosperity of Edo

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pp. 480-492

Terakado Seiken (1796–1868), an orphaned son of a minor official of Mito Domain, went through a period of delinquency before he soberly devoted himself to the Confucian classics, opening his own private academy in his late twenties. His failure to enter the administration of Mito seems to have been the catalyst for penning his first and most famous work, ...

Source Texts and Modern Editions

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pp. 493-498

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pp. 499-504

Faith Bach teaches Japanese cultural history at Kwansei Gakuin University and Kyoto Sangyo University. She is also active as a kabuki/bunraku Earphone Guide theater commentator. Her translations of Kawatake Mokuami’s plays Shinza the Barber and The Fishmonger Sōgorō are included in Kabuki Plays On Stage, vol. 4 (2003). ...


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pp. 505-506


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pp. 507-509

Subject Index

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pp. 509-516

Back Cover

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p. 548-548

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837761
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824836290

Publication Year: 2013