International Symposium on Japanese Studies in Global Contexts

Open Japan Closed Japan: Towards Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Mobility

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Movement in Ihara Saikaku’s Novels: Works Reflecting a Moving Society

Daniel Struve, Paris Diderot University

The Osaka writer Ihara Saikaku (1642-1694), initially trained as a haikai poet, is known as the founder of a new type of literature called ukiyozôshi, where he tried to depict life in early modern cities in all its diversity and to explore the “heart of the people of this world”. Starting with the pleasure quarters, at the center of this “floating world”, Saikaku extended his literary exploration to other spheres of society such as warriors’ ethics or merchants’ economic life, expressing the view the “Man is an always transforming being” and that “there is nothing that doesn’t exist in Men’s world” (Saikaku shokoku banashi, Preface). In his novels, characterized by their sharp sense of observation, Saikaku depicted the urban society of his time as an ever-changing dynamic reality.

One of the aspects of this changing world is the perpetual movement of the characters in Saikaku’s novels. Many examples can be seen of people traveling and moving for all kinds of purposes: for leisure, for business, to exert vengeance, to escape creditors, and so on. The main character of Kôshoku Ichidai Otoko, Yonosuke, which can be seen as the novelist’s proxy, is constantly on the move looking for new experiences. There are numerous stories of merchants getting immensely rich and then losing their fortune or reduced to vagabond life and hinin (outcast/subhuman) status and then getting a fresh start in a new place. The medieval notion of mujô (impermanence) presents human life as travel and is thus transformed into a new meaning to describe an open society.

In this presentation I will focus on these images of movement and displacement in Saikaku’s works and on how they contribute to a narrative representing a mobile and unstable society.

Short Biography

Daniel Struve is associate professor of Japanese literature at Paris Diderot University. His field of study is Japanese classical literature and his research interests are in Ihrara Saikaku and classical narrative prose. His main publications include Ihara Saikaku: Un romancier japonais du XVIIe siècle: Essai d'étude poétique, Presses Universitaires de France, 2001 and Littérature japonaise, with Jean-Jacques Tschudin, PUF, coll. Que sais-je?, 2008.