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Geisha Culture and Arts for Use at

Amatsu Okiya in Second Life

12. Popular Literature of the 17th Century

Of course so much more could be written about Japanese literature.

We will conclude this lesson with a brief discussion on the popular literature of the seventeenth century.

There were three components to another movement in Japanese literature from the one previously described.

This comprised fiction, the drama and a new kind of poetry -- Haikai. This popular literature was for the first time in Japanese history, written for those outside of court life - the general populace of Japan--especially those who resided in Yedo, Kyoto and Osaka.

One of the earliest romances of this time was the Mokusu Monogatari, a melodramatic focus on love, jealousy and revenge. The Usuyuki Monogatari and the Hannosuke no Soshi (1660) follow along the same lines.... man meets woman, they fall in love, she dies, he shaves his head and retires to monastic life.

Ibara Saikaku founded a new school of popular writing in Japan. He revived the style of old tales, novels and sketches that had been seen in the days of Murasaki no Shikibu and Sei Shonagon. His own works though were so morally debase they were banned by the Government. He wrote one decent book, Saikaku Nagori no Tomo, a collection of stories about his fellow authors of Haikai.

Children' Fiction abounded in the seventeenth century and many have retained their popularity to this day. The Nedzumi no Yomeiri (Rat's Wedding) was written before 1661, Saru-kani Kassen (Battle of the Ape and the Crab) and the Shitakiri Suzume (Tongue-cut Sparrow) come from 1704-1711. Other popular tales that you may want to research are Momotaro (Little Peachling), Hana Sakay Jiji (The Old Man who made Trees to Blossom).

Chikamatsu was popular drama that actually stemmed from the Taiheiki, which was chanted or recited in public. Dramas that followed were typically told by a person who spoke to the accompaniment of the tapping of a fan for rhythm and a samisen. One favorite story written towards the end of the Muromachi period was Joruri jiu-ni dan Soshi. It was about the loves of the famous Yoshitsune.

The first Kabuki Shibai, or popular theater, was established at Kyoto in the early seventeenth century. The beginnings of Kabuki are said to be a priestess named O Kuni, of the temple of Kidzuki had met a man named Nagoya Sanzaburo. She ran away with him to Kyoto. They gathered dancing girls and together with them put on performances on the bank of the river Kamo.

Marionette theatre, Takemoto za, also developed during this time and is still popular today in Japan. It was developed in 1661.

The puppets themselves are very complicated. They are fitted with machinery that would allow the puppeteer to control the movements of their eyes, eyebrows, mouth opening and closing and even moving fingers that allowed grasping objects. The fame of the Takemoto Za is attributed to Chikamatsu Monzayemon who was the most prominent figure in the history of Japanese drama. He was a Ronin - a Samurai without a Master. He produced a large number of dramas beginning in 1685 until his death in 1724. His most famous play is Kokusenya Kassen (The Battles of Kokusenya).

So ends this literature-history lesson. Haiku is discussed in another lesson and also class discussions on that topic are posted elsewhere on this website.

Bunraku Marionette Theater

Click this link to YouTube to see Japanese Bunraku puppets

Please return to the Maiko Literature Page and complete the assignment part of the lesson and take the quiz. 

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