Popular entertainment blossomed during the Tokugawa Shogunate

(Posted on October 11, 2023)

As is well known the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867) epitomized the period of strict feudal social order governed by a Samurai class. It managed to bring about relative peace and stability to the country for nearly three centuries. Perhaps with this background, popular entertainment popped up one after another mostly in Edo, the seat of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and Osaka, the center of economic activities in Japan. Incidentally, the population of Edo grew to about one million during the 18th Century, becoming one of the largest cities in the world at that time.


What exactly constituted popular entertainment? They included kabuki (a theater play with music), joruri (a puppet theater), ukiyo-zoshi (woodblock novels for townspeople), ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), kawaraban (a woodblock tabloid) and more. Here we would like to look into the works of Chikamatu Monzaemon, a Kabuki and joruri writer, and Ihara Saikaku, an ukiyo-zoshi writer. 

Ukiyoe depicting a kabuki theater        kabuki players


Chikamatu Monzaemon (1653-1725), a son of an ex-samurai father, first worked as an assistant to a joruri writer. He was a prolific writer covering topics related to historic events and townspeople’s lives particularly love-suicide tragedies, one of which is “Love-suicide of Sonezaki”, written in 1703.

He was referred to as the Shakespeare of Japan by some. 


Next comes Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693), a Haiku poet and joruri writer as well as an ukiyo-zoshi writer. One of his best-known novels is called “Koshoku Ichidai Otoko” published in 1682, depicting a man borne to a rich merchant and his love affairs across his 60 years of life. This novel is said to have been influenced by “Genji Monogatari”, a love story written by a court lady in the early 11th Century. 

                                                             An example of a woodblock novel

                                                                           (not related to Saikaku’s work)





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