A great variety of fiction was produced during the last century of the Tokugawa shogunate, but it is commonly lumped together under the somewhat derogatory heading of gesaku ("playful composition"). The word "playful" did not necessarily refer to the subject matter but to the professed attitude of the authors, educated men who disclaimed responsibility for their compositions. Ueda Akinari, the last master of fiction of the 18th century, won a high place in literary history mainly through his brilliant style, displayed to best advantage in Ugetsu monogatari (1776; Tales of Moonlight and Rain), a collection of supernatural tales. The gesaku writers, however, did not follow Akinari in his perfectionist attention to style and construction; instead, they produced books of almost formless gossip, substituting the raciness of daily speech for the elegance of the classical language, and relying heavily on the copious illustrations for success with the public.
The gesaku writers were professionals who made their living by sale of their books. They aimed at as wide a public as possible, and when a book was successful it was usually followed by as many sequels as the public would accept. The most popular of the comic variety of gesaku fiction was Tokai dochu hizakurige (1802-22; "Travels on Foot on the Tokaido"; Eng. trans., Shank's Mare), by Jippensha Ikku, an account of the travels and comic misfortunes of two irrepressible men from Edo along the Tokaido, the great highway between Kyoto and Edo.
Early modern Japan (1550-1850): THE WEAKENING OF THE BAKUHAN
The maturity of Edo culture." Britannica Online.
[Accessed 25 January 1999].
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