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  • Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900
  • Julie Iezzi
Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900. Edited by Haruo Shirane. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. 1027 + xxiv pp. Cloth $77.00; paper $27.50.

This comprehensive anthology of early modern literature offers an extensive range of prose fiction, poetry, drama, essays, treatises, and literary criticism. More than two hundred woodblock prints and photographs illustrate the text, giving a sense of how the material looked on the page in the original Japanese, as well as how it appears on stage. While the collection overall is aimed at students of Japanese literature, much of the material is of interest to Japanese theatre specialists, with numerous introductions and translations elucidating integral relationships between the world of the theatre and other aspects of society. Certainly the most relevant selections are the eleven kabuki and puppet plays, including both sewamono (contemporary domestic plays) and jidaimono (period plays). Less known but of benefit to the theatre teacher, practitioner, and student are selected translations of the dangibon (satiric sermons), kibyōshi (satiric and didactic picture books), sharebon (books of wit and fashion), yomihon (reading books), and kokkeibon (books of humor).

Chapter 1 is a multifaceted introduction providing a solid context for the Edo period (1600–1867) literature in the volume. The author includes brief, insightful sections on the social hierarchy; the economies of the cities of Edo, Osaka, and Kyoto; courtesans and female entertainers; literacy and printing; women and readership; warrior and urban commoner attitudes; and popular and elite literature. The concepts and developments discussed provide information useful for understanding the mindset of the Edo period populace that both fueled and consumed the literary and dramatic material included, as well as a better understanding of circumstances and character motivations in plays. One notable factor is the periodization framework Shirane uses for Edo period literature. Though the Edo period was more than 350 years long, the focus of Edo literary and dramatic achievements is often the two "peaks" [End Page 207] of the Genroku era, from the late seventeenth century through the first two decades of the eighteenth century, and the Bunka-Bunsei era, the first three decades of the nineteenth century. Shirane instead breaks the period into four sections, discussing a transitional period prior to the Genroku era and placing great importance on the century between the two peaks. Understanding this third period of time, marked by "a remarkable fusion of high and popular styles of cultures" (p. 19) and a tendency toward richly imaginative explorations of other worlds, offers rich insights into the dramatic developments of the Bunka-Bunsei era that followed.

Chapter 3, "Ihara Saikaku and the Books of the Floating World" (ukiyozōshi) is devoted to the writings of this prolific Genroku era author, who was as important to popular fiction as his contemporary Chikamatsu Monzaemon was to popular drama. Saikaku briefly wrote plays for the noted ningyō jōruri (later known as bunraku) chanter Uji Kaganojō in 1685, competing with Chikamatsu, who was writing for Takemoto Gidayū. The influence of this experience is clear in Saikaku's famous 1686 work, Five Sensuous Women (Koshoku gonin onna), particularly his use of "stage conventions such as the michiyuki (travel scene), the focus on dramatic scene and dialogue, and the use of sekai (established world) and shukō (innovation) in which an established story is given a new twist or interpretation." (p. 60) In the Great Mirror of Male Love (Nanshoku Ökagami, 1687), Saikaku addresses the practice of male-male love. Though only one story is included here, a published translation of the full volume (Stanford University Press, 1990) includes twenty stories in the second half focusing on young kabuki actors and boy prostitutes in the theatre. Similar to much of the ningyō jōruri drama of the period, the stories depict the conflict between societal duty and personal feelings (giri and ninjō) while painting a colorful picture of the off-stage world of the Genroku kabuki actor.

Chapter 6, " Chikamatsu Monzaemon and Puppet Theater," begins with introductions to early jōruri and kabuki and to Chikamatsu. Three sewamono from Donald Keene's Major Plays of Chikamatsu are reprinted in full or...


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pp. 207-210
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