Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Five Women Who Loved Love by Ihara Saikaku

I actually read Ihara Saikaku's Five Women Who Loved Love about a month ago and I blogged about it then on my personal site. I didn't have the energy at the time to post about it here, and as time went on I put it off because I felt this book deserved more thought and serious attention than I could then give it.

So, this is my second review for this great Japanese Literature challenge, and I chose Five Women Who Loved Love for two reasons. The first was that I believe this is the first Floating World book to be discussed here. The Floating World (浮世) refers to the excesses, dangers, and beauties of urban Japan during the Edo Period (1600-1867).

More, from Wikipedia, which actually kind of got it right:

Ideas of the Floating World were "centered on Yoshiwara, the licensed red-light district of Edo (modern Tokyo). The area's brothels, teahouses and kabuki theaters were frequented by Japan's growing middle class. This particular Floating World culture also arose in other cities such as Osaka and Kyoto.

It is also an ironic allusion to the homophone 'Sorrowful World' (憂き世), the earthly plane of death and rebirth from which Buddhists sought release."

Ihara Saikaku (1642-93) is considered the creator of Floating World literature for the ways in which he evoked the energy and inclinations of pleasure-seeking urbanites while also remaining focused on Buddhist concerns of letting go of this world. This is a difficult balance to maintain indeed, for these books were widely read and considered what we would now call best-sellers. Attraction and repulsion seem to have been of equal importance in Saikaku's works and I think that must have been part of what contributed to his books being so widely read.

The other reason I chose this book is that I'd previously read Saikaku's The Life of an Amorous Man and very much enjoyed it. I didn't initially enjoy Five Women Who Loved Love as much but as time passes, I find myself remembering it more and more positively. At the time, all I wanted were some good yarns but now I find myself returning mentally again and again to the beautiful melancholy underlying all of the young characters' attempts to hold on to things which must be lost, sooner or later: the life of the body and heart, and all their extremes of pleasure and pain.

As an introduction to Floating World literature, I would definitely recommend both Five Women Who Loved Love and The Life of An Amorous Man.


Robin said...

Oh, how interesting! I'd never heard of this, but it sounds quite fascinating! I've put it on my list to read. Very nice review, thanks.

Princess Haiku said...

nicely written.