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Presentation on Ihara Saikaku


Ihara Saikaku is now viewed by many literary critics as one of the most prominent Japanese poets. He was the offspring of a prosperous merchant; when he was fifteen, he started to take interest in heikai and soon became very popular in this genre. However, the authors talent should not be limited only to poetry because Ihara Saikaku is also renowned for his prosaic works, especially amorous stories as for instance “Five Women Who Loved Love”, “The Great Mirror of Beauties”, “The Man Who Spent his life in Love” and many others.

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The authors amorous novellas should be interpreted within the context of religious and cultural tradition of the then Japan. First, it should be borne in mind that according to the tenets of Buddhism the dominant religion of Japan, desire is the cause of all sufferings that a human being may experience, therefore in order to become enlightened or free, a person must reject all his attachments to the mundane world (Bowring, 27). In his works, Ihara Saikaku presents his own views on this issue. His characters are not able to denounce their longings, and religion is no longer a way to resolve their problems. A person may devote himself or herself to religion but he cannot forsake his or her love. People in Saikakus stories always adhere to the principle that “Life is short, love is long” (Saikaku, 77). The origins or the authors works can found in the famous “The Tale of Genji” by Murasaki Shikibu who was the first one to analyze the relationships between love, desire and the religion. Saikakus novels gave rise to such genre as Ukiyo or the floating world. Representatives of this style mostly focus on the life in a town and particularly on the pleasures of such life-style.

The conflict between love and religion is reflected in the authors short story “The Barrelmaker Brimful of Life”. The main character, Osen is pondering over the idea of becoming a novice in the temple; her nanny supports it and says that it is “better than to live in a world full of disappointments” (Saikaku, 96). Nevertheless, the girl abandons this idea and gives preference to the pleasures of secular life because she seeks love though never finds it. At the very end of the story, the author concludes, “This is a stern world and a sin never goes unpunished” (Saikaku 113). Despite the fact that Osens quest for love leads her to her destruction and the author calls her behavior sinful she still remains a sympathetic character. Her actions were motivated not by sexual desire, which is egoistic in its core, but a need to love and to be loved. The collision between the religion and love find its reflection in the story “The Love of an Amorous Woman”.

At first glance, it may seem that this story just another interpretation of Murasaki Shikibus “The Tale of Genji” because the two authors explore similar aspects of human relationships. However, one should not draw parallels between them because Ihara Saikaku place emphasis on love but not on desire as Shikubu does.

Probably it is a far-fetched statement this story can also be discussed from a feminist perspective. It is evident that Osen has never been willing to marry her husband; in fact, she was compelled to do it. The heroine commits adultery with another man but when she is caught by her husband, the cooper, kills herself. Such development of the plot clearly indicates that position of women in the then Japan left much to be desired. Naturally, the author never places a stress on this particular aspect but we can see that in patriarchal Japan, a wife had to subdue to her husband, otherwise she could suffer Osens fate who commited suicide and her body was exposed “in the Shame Field” (Saikaku, 113).

Furthermore, Saikaku in his stories reflects new tendencies of the then Japanese society. In the seventeenth century the countrys social order was mostly based on obedience of servant to its master. Such philosophy laid foundations for the effective functioning of the society. Individual happiness was sacrificed for the sake of general welfare. Such doctrine is also known as “the way of the warrior” The characters, created by Saikaku cry against such philosophy and attach primary importance to the individuality. Their social position can be called “the way of the towns people” The conflict between the general welfare and individual happiness is a recurrent motif in the authors prosaic works, for example in the “Barrelmaker Brimful of Love” Osen is dissatisfied with her family life though according to religious and cultural tradition, it was supposed to be her main concern. Her adultery is a rebellion against such social order.


Thus we can arrive at the conclusion that Ihara Saikakus amorous stories take their origin in the famous work of Japanese literature “The Tale of Genji”. They can be interpreted from religious, social, and feminist perspectives. “The Barrelmaker Brimful of Love” represents the conflict between love and religion, general welfare and individuality.

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Ihara Saikaku, William Theodore De Bary, Yoshida Hambei, Richard Lane.” Five Women Who Loved Love: Amorous Tales from 17th-Century Japan”. Tuttle Publishing, 1977.

K. Krishna Murthy. “Buddhism in Japan” Sundeep Prakashan, 1998.

Richard John Bowring. “The Religious Traditions of Japan, 500-1600” Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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StudyCorgi. "Presentation on Ihara Saikaku." October 22, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Presentation on Ihara Saikaku." October 22, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Presentation on Ihara Saikaku'. 22 October.

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