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Saikaku, Ihara (1642-1693)  
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The work of Saikaku's that had perhaps the broadest appeal was The Great Mirror of Male Love, for it contained all three thematic elements, and it is this book that is most relevant to placing Saikaku in an ongoing tradition of gay and lesbian literature. Saikaku shows great familiarity with the way vernacular narratives (kana zóshi) from earlier in the seventeenth century discussed male homosexual love.

The volume is framed as an antifemale polemic in the opening and closing sections, directed primarily at the men who prefer women as sexual partners. Along the lines of kana zóshi discussions, Saikaku treats the issue of preference for women or boys as an aesthetic issue and proceeds on the assumption that boys are superior as lovers on aesthetic grounds.

Each narrative within the collection focuses on a specific youth whose relationship with an adult man shows him to be a paragon of the ideals of male love, ideals such as loyalty, honor, and faithfulness to one's "brotherly troth." The stories thus valorize the youth in a distinctly new formulation of male love called wakashudó ("the way of the youth"), commonly abbreviated to shudó.

The first twenty stories of The Great Mirror of Male Love treat samurai man-youth relations. Death is prominent as the means whereby the youth proves his faithfulness to the ideals of shudó. Typically, youths and their adult male lovers battle interlopers and, after successfully defending the honor of their relationship, manfully take their own lives.

The second twenty stories treat youths in the kabuki theater and their merchant-class patrons. There, the means of upholding the ideals of shudó are necessarily different. Typically, the kabuki youth proves that he has mastered the ideals of shudó by attracting and satisfying many men; in some cases, he defends his relationship with a specific man by renouncing the stage to devote himself to him or, in most cases, to his memory since the man usually disappears or is deceased.

Where Saikaku breaks new ground and goes beyond what was done in earlier vernacular texts on male love is in his division of the adult men who love youths into two groups, woman-haters (onna girai) and connoisseurs of boys (shójin zuki). The woman-hater is exclusive in his preference for the love of youths, whereas the connoisseur of boys enjoys their love along with the love of women.

The two groups are in some ways parallel to the categories in many modern societies of the (exclusively) homosexual and the bisexual. Saikaku builds The Great Mirror of Male Love around the exclusive ethos of the woman-hater since it is the "homosexual" woman-hater's extreme stance that best suits Saikaku's artistic goals for the book, namely, that it depict paragons of male love.

It should be remembered that Saikaku wrote very differently about women and about male love in his other works, a result of his different artistic goals in those works. In The Life of an Amorous Man, for example, male love appears as a playful variation to loving women, very much in the mode of the "bisexual" connoisseur of boys.

The sequel to that work, The Great Mirror of Loves (Shoen ókagami [1684]) depicted an exclusively "heterosexual" interest in women by the hero, identified as the son of the original "amorous man."

All this serves to prove that the stance taken in The Great Mirror of Male Love is just that: a stance, taken by a writer for artistic reasons to entertain an urban readership in the closing decades of the seventeenth century in Edo Period Japan.

The theme of male love moved Saikaku from his books on love into his later books on, first, samurai life and, later, merchant life.

In the same year that The Great Mirror of Male Love was published, Saikaku also wrote a collection of stories about samurai vendettas, The Transmission of the Martial Arts (Budó denrai ki [1687]), some of which were to avenge wrongs motivated by male love.

In the following year, Saikaku came out with another collection called Tales of Samurai Honor (Buke giri monogatari [1688]; tr. Callahan, 1981), which similarly contained stories about the role of honor in male love.

In the last stage of his career, Saikaku focused on the concerns of merchant life, primarily advice in business and making money, structured around biographical success stories that conveyed the ethical principles of merchant society.

Paul Gordon Schalow

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arts >> Kabuki

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Danly, Robert Lyons. In the Shade of Spring Leaves, The Life and Writings of Higuchi Ichiyo, a Woman of Letters in Meiji Japan. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.

Drake, Christopher. "Saikaku's Haikai Requiem: A Thousand Haikai Alone in a Single Day, The First Hundred Verses." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 52.2 (December 1992): 481-588.

Hibbett, Howard S. The Floating World in Japanese Fiction. London: Oxford University Press, 1959.

_____. "Saikaku as a Realist." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 15 (December 1952): 408-418.

Ihara Saikaku. The Great Mirror of Male Love. Trans. Paul Gordon Schalow. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990.

Lane, Richard. "Postwar Japanese Studies of the Novelist Saikaku." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 18 (June 1955): 181-199.

Schalow, Paul G. "Male Love in Early Modern Japan: A Literary Depiction of the 'Youth.'" Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey, Jr., eds. New York: New American Library, 1989, 118-128.


    Citation Information
    Author: Schalow, Paul Gordon  
    Entry Title: Saikaku, Ihara  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 2, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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