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Finding Wisdom in East Asian Classics$
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Wm. Theodore de Bary

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780231153973

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231153973.001.0001

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Saikaku’s Five Women Who Loved Love

Saikaku’s Five Women Who Loved Love

(p.310) 23 Saikaku’s Five Women Who Loved Love
Finding Wisdom in East Asian Classics

Wm. Theodore de Bary

Columbia University Press

This chapter examines Ihara Saikaku's novel Five Women Who Loved Love, which was written for the amusement of the townspeople in the new commercial centers of seventeenth-century Japan. The few surviving records show that Saikaku was not only a popular novelist but also a poet of wide reputation in his own day, a playwright and commentator on theater life, and something of a vagabond who had closely observed life as it was lived in parts of the country other than his own. Being so cosmopolitan, he was all the more truly a citizen of Osaka. The things that fascinated him in his native city he also found in others—back alleys and slums as well as gay theaters and teahouses; beggars, peddlers, and the lowliest prostitutes, along with merchant princes and famous courtesans. But in writing about them as he did, with such a rare combination of sympathy and detachment, he gave expression to a feeling of which the inhabitants of Osaka were probably more conscious than other townspeople: that they were citizens with a new importance to society and a new outlook on the world, one that showed the way to a richer and happier life than medieval Japan had known. Five Women Who Loved Love is mostly about people enjoying the pleasures of already-earned wealth, but two of its heroes do have to figure out how to go about acquiring it, and we know from them something of what Saikaku thought was essential to the making of money: frugality, persistence, a ready mind for figures, mastery of the abacus, a pleasant manner, honesty, and imagination.

Keywords:   Japanese novels, Japanese novelists, Five Women Who Loved Love, Ihara Saikaku

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