- An Edo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Mega-City, 1750–1850 ed. by Sumie Jones
It has been a dozen years since the appearance of the first anthology of English-language translations from early modern literary works, the massive Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology 1600–1900, edited by Haruo Shirane (Columbia University Press, 2002). With the publication of the volume under review, students of comparative literature and other subjects can now turn to an even more focused anthology of high-quality and reliable translations. Sumie Jones and her collaborator/consultant Kenji Watanabe have compiled a commendable range of translations, most of which either appear for the first time in English translation or are otherwise difficult to obtain. In their preface, Jones and Watanabe recognize the work of Howard Hibbett in bringing together graduate students and emerging scholars in the 1980s to share ideas and thoughts on the literature of the Edo period, in particular the gesaku works of “frivolous” writing that emerged in the last century of the period. These writings, usually heavily illustrated, were at first the products of (often-frustrated) warrior-bureaucrats who were later joined by merchants, artisans, and others affiliated with the burgeoning publishing industry in the Edo metropolis. Their importance in the history of Japanese literature was generally ignored in the West until recent decades. Starting in the early 1980s, Hibbett and his colleagues at Harvard sponsored a series of workshops and seminars on gesaku and other early modern Japanese literature, inviting scholars from other institutions as well as encouraging graduate students to present the results of their research. Most of the contributors to this volume were involved in some way with one or more of these workshops.
Jones’s introduction takes the reader on an extensive tour of Edo popular culture, with her thirty-eight-page essay structured in sections as follows: “The City in Popular Literature,” “The Invention of Edo,” “Samurai and Commoners,” “Women and Men,” “Gender and Sexuality,” “Notorious Places,” “Famous Places and Other Spots for Entertainment,” “Edo-mae: Made in Edo,” “Edokko: The True-Blue Edoite,” “Playful Writing and the High and Low of Edo Taste,” “The Publishing Business,” “The Genres of Edo’s Popular Literature,” and “Edo Literature Here and Now.” Because the essay focuses both on popular literature and on the particular cultures that developed in Edo, in 1800 the most populous city in the world, the reader benefits from insights and details that are treated more briefly, if at all, in Shirane’s otherwise excellent twenty-page introductory chapter to the broader 2002 anthology. For the most part, the Jones-Watanabe collaboration remains true to the book’s title, restricting the authors and works featured to those of the last century of the Edo period and to those geographically connected with Edo proper. There are, however, a number of [End Page 292] exceptions, whose inclusion in the volume is not explained: the kasen sequence of thirty-six renku (linked haikai verses) by Yosa Buson and Takai Kitō; Peaches and Plums (Momo sumomo; Kyoto, 1780); the “‘Housemaid’s Ballad’ and Other Poems,” written in the kyōshi (“mad Chinese verse”) form by Dōmyaku Sensei (Hatakenaka Kansai) and included in Songs of the Age of Great Tranquility (Taihei gafu; Kyoto, 1769); and the book’s selection of waka, “Peasants, Peddlers, and Paramours,” many of which were composed and published (or transcribed) by poets in the Kamigata region or in the provinces, such as Tachibana Akemi of Echizen (Fukui prefecture), and the important women Nomura Bōtō of Chikuzen (Fukuoka prefecture) and Ōtagaki Rengetsu of Kyoto. All the rest of the works appearing in this anthology derive from and were published in the hyperbolic “mega-city” of Edo.
One distinctive, and for some readers less-than-successful, characteristic of this anthology is its structure. As the editors declare, the selections “are arranged neither in a chronological order nor according to genre categories but by themes through which the texts resonate with one another...