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Writer Ihara Saikaku
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Tsujo, a writer

Tsujo, a female writer, as depicted in "Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire"



The years between 1688 and 1704, the Genroku Era, were marked by prosperity and drastic change in Japan's popular culture. With merchants spending lavishly on entertainment and fine arts, idle samurai increasingly put their creative energies toward intellectual pursuits. Among the results was an outpouring of prose and poetry.

Three literary figures dominated the Genroku Era—Matsuo Basho, Ihara Saikaku, and Chikamatsu Monzaemon.

Known for his poetry and travel diaries, Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) was the son of a lowly samurai. When his lord died, he became a ronin and moved to Edo. Taking part in the popular poetry writing and debate competitions, Basho excelled in haikai (now known as haiku) a three-line segment poem of five, seven and five syllables which used simple language and every day occurrences to create images that evoked emotion. Basho became the most famous poet of his generation, and when he traveled, locals would gather to match their wits against him.

In 1682, Ihara Saikaku published The Life Of An Amourous Man, a book credited with introducing ukiyo zoshi (tales of the floating world), a style of fiction. Formerly a merchant, Saikaku wandered the country studying poetry following the death of his wife and daughter. Initially earning fame for his speed in poetry contests, Saikaku achieved unsurpassed popularity for his fiction. Writing in the colloquial of the day, his themes addressed the concerns of commoners, and his books were immediate best-sellers.

Writing for Bunraku and Kabuki theater, Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1651-1714) was the greatest playwright of the Edo Period and is often referred to as Japan's Shakespeare. Born into a samurai family from the provinces, Chikamatsu's play based on a true love story involving suicide became an instant hit. The play's success inspired Chikamatsu to write twenty more plays with a suicide theme. These plays spawned a rash of suicides, leading authorities to make suicide a crime: surviving partners were tried as murderers, and the corpses of dead lovers were humiliatingly exposed like common criminals.

IMAGE CREDITS
Top: Writer Ihara Saikaku/Osaka Nakanoshima Library
Left: Writer Tsujo/Shunji Jonoshita
Right: Caligraphy/Goldfarb-Plug-In

caligraphy

CASTE POSITION
Drawn from all levels of society, writers were not assigned a specific caste position.



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