Grilled Playboy

If you are looking for something fun and useful to teach in a Tokugawa class, I recommend Santo Kyoden  Playboy Grilled Edo Style from Kern, Adam L. Manga from the Floating World: Comicbook Culture and the Kibyoshi of Edo Japan 2d Edition, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019.

This is actually a piece that has been anthologized a lot.  There is a version in Sumie Jones and Kenji Watanabe. An Edo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Mega-City, 1750-1850. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2013. (translation by Sumie Jones) and one in Shirane, Haruo. Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.  (translation by Chris Drake)

I like the Kern version for a few reasons (obviously I can’t judge the quality of the translation) First, it is printed as an illustrated book, with the text in English. The Drake version (in Hirane) is just text with the pictures as illustrations. The Jones version has the English text in the pictures, but I am not crazy about the font1 and the pictures are not as clear. The Kern is either from a better print or it has been touched up or re-drawn. It also reads right to left, which will impress the manga fans in your class.

The real advantage of Kern is that the notes explain all the visual puns and references in the pictures.

The others try to do this, but really don’t have the space for it. The Kern book as a whole is far too difficult to give to undergrads, but he does explain a lot of stuff about the visual culture of the Tokugawa that you can then explain to students and they will think you are smart, whereas really you just read the other parts of the book.

The story is so widely anthologized because it is a parody of the hero’s journey. The main subject, Enjiro, the son of a wealthy merchant, sets off to became a notorious libertine in the floating world.  This of course is what others try to avoid, but he embraces it. Just like those who set out to become master swordsmen or poets he has to train and learn and mortify his flesh and, given that his goal is to be well-known he has to publicize everything he is doing and above all get people to pay attention. Needless to say he fails at all of this, but there are a lot of good jokes and lots of points you can make about Tokugawa culture and how people navigated the new public worlds.

  1. Me a font snob!  

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