Born as Hirayama Tōgo, the son of a wealthy merchant in Osaka, he first studied haikai poetry under Matsunaga Teitoku and later studied under Nishiyama Sōin of the Danrin School of poetry, which emphasized comic linked verse. From the age of fifteen Saikaku had begun to compose haikai no renga (linked verse). Scholars have described numerous extraordinary feats of solo haikai composition at one sitting; most famously, over the course of a single day and night in 1677, Saikaku is reported to have composed at least 16,000 haikai stanzas, with some sources placing the number at over 23,500 stanzas.
In 1662 at the age of twenty Saikaku had become a haikai master. Under the pen name Ihara Kakuei, Saikaku began to establish himself as a popular haikai poet. By 1670 Saikaku had developed his own distinctive style: In essence his haikai style relied on the use of colloquial language to depict contemporary chōnin life. Furthermore, during this time Saikaku owned and ran a medium-size business in Osaka.
Later in life he began writing racy accounts of the financial and amorous affairs of the merchant class and the demimonde. These stories catered to the whims of the newly prominent merchant class, whose tastes of entertainment leaned toward the arts and pleasure districts.
In 1673 he changed his pen name to Saikaku. However, the death of his dearly beloved wife in 1675 had an extremely profound impact him. A few days after her death, in an act of grief and true love, Saikaku started to compose a thousand-verse haikai poem over twelve hours. When this work was published it was called ‘Haikai Single Day Thousand Verse’ (Haikai Dokugin Ichinichi).
It was the first time that Saikaku had attempted to compose such a lengthy piece of literature. The overall experience and success that Saikaku received from composing such a mammoth exercise has been credited with sparking the writer’s interest in writing novels.
Shortly after his wife’s death, the grief-stricken Saikaku decided to become a lay monk, thus leaving behind his three children (one of whom was blind) to be cared for by his extended family and his business by his employees. He started his travels all across Japan after the death of his blind daughter.
In 1677 Saikaku returned to Osaka and had learnt of the success his thousand-verse haikai poem had received. From then on he pursued a career as a professional writer. Initially Saikaku continued to produce haikai poetry, but by 1682 he had published his first of many fictional novels The Life of an Amorous Man.
As Saikaku’s popularity and readership began to increase and expand across Japan so did the amount of literature he published. When he died in 1693 at the age of fifty-one Saikaku was one of the most popular writers of the entire Tokugawa period. At the time his work was never considered high literature because it had been aimed towards and popularised by the chonin. Nevertheless, Saikaku’s work is now celebrated for its significance for developing Japanese fiction literature.
Homosexual love was his major theme, esp. in The Great Mirror of Male Love (1687), a collection of short stories about love between samurai men & boys, monks & boys, and male actor-prostitutes in kabuki theatre.
The Great Mirror of Male Love by Ihara Saikaku
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (April 1, 1991)
Amazon: The Great Mirror of Male Love
“A welcome opportunity for wider comparison of the literary traditions and sexual conventions of Japanese and Euro-American cultures.”—Journal of Japanese Studies
Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan by Gary Leupp
Hardcover: 317 pages
Publisher: University of California Press (May 15, 1997)
Amazon: Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan
Tokugawa Japan ranks with ancient Athens as a society that not only tolerated, but celebrated, male homosexual behavior. Few scholars have seriously studied the subject, and until now none have satisfactorily explained the origins of the tradition or elucidated how its conventions reflected class structure and gender roles. Gary P. Leupp fills the gap with a dynamic examination of the origins and nature of the tradition. Based on a wealth of literary and historical documentation, this study places Tokugawa homosexuality in a global context, exploring its implications for contemporary debates on the historical construction of sexual desire.
Combing through popular fiction, law codes, religious works, medical treatises, biographical material, and artistic treatments, Leupp traces the origins of pre-Tokugawa homosexual traditions among monks and samurai, then describes the emergence of homosexual practices among commoners in Tokugawa cities. He argues that it was "nurture" rather than "nature" that accounted for such conspicuous male/male sexuality and that bisexuality was more prevalent than homosexuality. Detailed, thorough, and very readable, this study is the first in English or Japanese to address so comprehensively one of the most complex and intriguing aspects of Japanese history.
Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600-1950 by Gregory M. Pflugfelder
Paperback: 411 pages
Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (March 19, 2007)
Amazon: Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600-1950
In this sweeping study of the mapping and remapping of male-male sexuality over four centuries of Japanese history, Gregory Pflugfelder explores the languages of medicine, law, and popular culture from the seventeenth century through the American Occupation.
Pflugfelder opens with fascinating speculations about how an Edo translator might grapple with a twentieth-century text on homosexuality, then turns to law, literature, newspaper articles, medical tracts, and other sources to discover Japanese attitudes toward sexuality over the centuries. During each of three major eras, he argues, one field dominated discourse on male-male sexual relations: popular culture in the Edo period (1600-1868), jurisprudence in the Meiji period (1868-1912), and medicine in the twentieth century.
This multidisciplinary and theoretically engaged analysis will interest not only students and scholars of Japan but also readers of gay studies, literary studies, gender studies, and cultural studies.
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