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three pairs of lovers with space



The following story is the last of the five which make up from Ihara Saikaku’s  好色五人女 (Kōshoku gonin onna), published in 1686, and loosely translated into English by Wm. Theodore de Bary as Five Women Who Loved Love (Rutland, Vermont, 1956), from which the following is taken.

Note that according to the traditional Japanese method of counting age followed by Saikaku, a person is born aged one, and goes up one each subsequent New Year, thus between one and two years (an average of a year and a half) needs to be taken off to find the modern English equivalent. Therefore, in this story, the second boy with whom the hero has a love affair, described as “fourteen or fifteen”, was really about thirteen. The age of the first boy he loved, Hachijuro, is not given, but it is implied that he may have been no older and stress is laid on his forelock still not having been cropped, a ceremony performed when a boy reached 18 or 19 and which represented the moment he became a man in Japanese thinking and the “dividing line beyond which a boy was off-limits to adult men”.[1]

In view of this, the reader may be struck by the oddity of the translation often referring to loving “men” and should be warned that the original Japanese does not do this. For example, in the critical line translated as “What difference does it make—the love of men or the love of women?”, the word translated as “love of men” is 男色 (nanshoku), which really means “love of males”, a critically different thing.

The three illustrations presented here that are woodblock prints accompanied the original Japanese of the immediately-adjoining text. “The artist was Yoshida Hambei, the leading illustrator of the Kyoto-Osaka region in Saikaku’s day.”[2]


1.  The flute-playing ends on a sad note

There was a man named Gengobei who is still known to the world in popular songs. He was from Kagoshima in Satsuma Province[3] and had a remarkable appetite for love considering that he came from such a remote and backward region. He wore his hair according to the fashion of his native place, down in back with a short tuft sticking up. His sword was quite long and conspicuous, but since this too was customary in his home province, people looked tolerantly upon it. Night and day he devoted himself to the love of young men. Not once in his life had he amused himself with the fragile, long-haired sex.

At this time Gengobei was twenty-five. For many years he had bestowed his favors upon a young boy, Nakamura Hachijuro, with whom he had fallen desperately in love at first sight and to whom he had pledged himself forever. Hachijuro was incomparably beautiful, resembling, one might say, the first bud of the cherry blossom with its petals half-open—a delicate flower of love.   

One night it was raining drearily and the two men closed themselves up, all alone, in a small room where Gengobei used to stay. As they played the flute together and listened to the noises outside, the wistful beauty of the night captivated them. Through the window came stormy gusts of wind, bearing with them the fragrance of plum trees, which lingered on in the lovers’ long, low-hanging sleeves. It was most touching of all to hear the sudden rustling of the bamboos, a sound which startled the nestling birds and set them aflutter.  

Gengobei and Hachijuro playing the flute together

Gradually the lamplight grew faint; the notes of the flute died away. Hachijuro, more appealing than ever, became more affectionate as they talked together happily. Every word spoken was charged with a love that sought expression in every possible way. Gengobei was overcome with the delightfulness of it and wished that Hachijuro might remain forever unchanged, always a boy with his forelock uncropped, which was an impossible desire, too foolish even for the world of folly.   

Dawn approached as they lay together amidst the disorder of their bed, and Gengobei dozed off to sleep. Hachijuro pinched himself to keep awake.  

“How can you waste the precious night in dreams!” he exclaimed to the sleeper, who only half-heard the words and found them hard to comprehend. “This may be the last night for you to talk to me. Can't you think of something to say, some last words of farewell?”    

Gengobei was startled and hurt. “You wound me with your playful talk. If someday we are kept apart, your face will haunt my dreams forever. What need is there to talk so foolishly, to say that tonight may be the end—just to get me stirred up!”  

They took each other‘s hands and Hachijuro smiled weakly. “There is nothing sure about this Floating World. Who then can tell when life may come to an end?"  

No sooner had he said this than his pulse failed. The parting he feared had become a reality.  

“What's this!" Gengobei cried, and as the first shock gave way to uncontrolled grief, he wept and carried on in a terrible way until everyone came in to see what was the matter.   

They gave Hachijuro medicines of all sorts, but to no avail. It was all over.  

When Hachijuro's parents were told about this, their grief knew no bounds. But they had known Gengobei well for many years and had no suspicions concerning Hachijuro's death.     

All the boy's belongings - whatever they could find—were gotten together and sent to the graveyard. They stuffed his body just as it was into a large jar, which was buried in the shade of tall grasses growing by the roadside.   

Gengobei prostrated himself on the mound, mourning his lost lover and wishing only that he himself could leave the world. "Alas, you were a frail one, were you not? I shall mourn for you just three years. Then, on this same day three years from now, I shall come here and join you among the ghosts."   

So saying, he left the graveyard and quickly cut off his hair. He told his whole story from beginning to end to the superior of a temple known as Saien-ji, after which he devoted himself wholeheartedly to the priesthood.    

In summertime he picked flowers each day and kept incense burning at the boy's grave. By and by, as the days passed with Gengobei deep in prayer for the salvation of Hachijuro, autumn arrived. Morning-glories soon were blooming on the hedges, their blossoms still another reminder of the awesome, unstable beauty of life.  

"Even the dew outlasts men's lives,” Gengobei thought, reflecting on the past, now lost forever. It was the eve of the Bon Festival, when a welcome was to be prepared for the returning souls of the dead. Gengobei cut some lavender and spread it on the floor, adding cucumbers and eggplant to his quaint display, with green soybeans scattered here and there. In the dim light of a hanging lantern he busily recited sutras before the altar of the dead, while hemp-sticks burned away in the fire of welcome for the ghosts. 

But the evening of the fourteenth was not to be a quiet one even at the temple. Creditors stood outside clamoring for the money which monks owed to them,[4] and at the front gate a dancing drummer filled the air with his pounding.   

“Here, too, life is becoming unpleasant,” Gengobei thought, and so he decided to make a trip to Mt. Koya.[5]   

In the morning, on the fifteenth day of the Poem Month,[6] he set out from his native place with his black robes stained by tears and his sleeves worn thin from rubbing swollen eyes.


2.  A birdcatcher’s life is as short as the bird’s 

Gengobei watching the boy trying to catch birds

The village was getting ready for winter. Firewood was being cut and stacked, snow fences were being put up to hold back the first snowfall, and people were boarding up their northern windows, while all about there was a noisy beating of clothes. Gengobei went through the open fields and was watching some little birds fight for a nesting place in the red-leaved trees, when he noticed a boy of fourteen or fifteen—certainly not yet sixteen - dressed in a hempen gown with pale-blue lining and a violet sash of medium width. At his side he carried a sword with a gilded guard.  His hair was swept up in tufts like little tea-brushes, and he had all the charm of a girl. Holding a bamboo pole at the middle, the boy aimed at one bird after another and threw his pole at least a hundred times without catching a single bird, much to his disappointment. 

“I would never have believed that such a beautiful boy could be found in this world," said Gengobei, watching him. “At most he is no older than Hachijuro was, and for good looks he surpasses him by far."   

All thought of death and the hereafter were quickly driven from his mind, and he stood and gazed till dusk. Finally he went up to the boy.  

“I am a priest, but I still know how to catch birds. Let me have your pole,” he said, baring his right arm for action.   

“Ho, all you birds up there! What is so bad about dying in his lovely hands? Have you no appreciation for the company of young boys, you rascals?” In no time at all he brought down countless birds and the young fellow was overjoyed.   

“How in the world did you happen to become a priest?” he inquired.     

Gengobei told the whole story from beginning to end, losing himself in sad memories so that it brought tears to the eyes of the boy.   

“How admirable of you,” he exclaimed in sympathy and awe, “to take up the religious life for such a reason! You must by all means come home with me and spend the night under our roof.”

The two of them were already fast friends as they walked together to his home, a charming place in the middle of the woods, built in the style of an imperial pavilion. Whinnying horses and armor which hung decoratively on the walls told Gengobei that this was the home of a samurai. He crossed a spacious hall and from the veranda could see steps leading away over a little bridge. There in a grove of striped bamboo was a garden bird-cage. He could hear wild geese, Chinese pigeons, golden cocks, and other birds singing. Up a little on the left was a balcony from which one could see in all directions. It was lined with book-shelves, which gave the place a certain studied charm.     

“This is our study,” the boy told Gengobei, inviting him to sit down. Then he called all the servants. “My guest, the priest, is to be my reading tutor. Please treat him well.”      

Tryst between a samurai and a boy, by Miyagawa Isshô, 18th century

With many things to talk about, they spent the night conversing intimately together. It was so delightful that they felt inspired to make promises of undying friendship. With all their hearts they wished to crowd a thousand nights of love into that one, and next morning the parting was sad.   

“Now you are bound for Koya,” the boy said in farewell. “On your return do not fail to come and see me again.”    

When he had quietly stolen away from the house, Gengobei went around to make some inquiries of a man in the village. Among other things he learned that the boy's father was deputy of that region, which made Gengobei still more pleased with his new romance.   

The going was slow on his journey toward the capital, so hard was it to pull himself ever farther away from his love, and on the way he thought of nothing but Hachijuro and the new boy. The way to Buddhahood was gone completely from his mind.    

At last, reaching the mountain of Kobo, he spent a day in the dormitory for priests, but did not bother to visit even the patriarch's tomb. In no time at all he headed home again, going straight to see the boy as he had promised he would.   

The young fellow who greeted him seemed not to have changed a bit since they first met, that day when the boy was birdcatching. Together they went into a small room, where Gengobei began to tell everything that had happened to him. But he was so weary from traveling that he soon dozed off to sleep, unaware that the boy had disappeared.   

In the morning the boy‘s father, surprised to find a stranger there, came in to give him a piece of his mind. Gengobei awoke with a start and hastened to explain everything—how he had come to take up holy orders and what had happened when he came here before. When he had finished, the master gestured with his hands as if at a sudden revelation.   

“That is strange indeed! I could not help feeling that he was a singularly beautiful boy, even if he was my own son. But life is never to be counted upon, and twenty days ago the frail creature passed away. Up until the end he kept calling—deliriously, I thought—for a certain priest. Now I see that it was you he meant.” 

Together they grieved and grieved over the sad loss, and Gengobei wanted to end his life there and then, so little did he value it. But men are not born with a will to die. Having seen two lovers meet death in so short a time, Gengobei found it hard to live on after them. Still, he reckoned it as some extraordinary retribution from the past that he should be required to learn from these two boys what great sadness is. And sad indeed it was.

3.  A lover of men with his hands of love

People themselves are the most despicable and heartless of all creatures. If we stop to think and look about us in the world, we find that everyone—ourselves as well as others—talks of giving up his life on the spot when some great misfortune occurs, when a young man dies in the prime of his youthful beauty, or when a wife to whom one has pledged undying love passes away early in life. But even in the midst of tears unseemly desires are ever with us. Our hearts slip off to seek treasure of all kinds or give way to sudden impulses.  

Thus it is with the woman whose husband has hardly breathed his last before she is thinking of another man to marry—watching, listening, scheming for one. She may have the dead man's younger brother take his place when he is gone. She may look for a pleasing match among close relatives or, in the dizzy chase, discard completely those with whom she has long been most intimate. She will say one short prayer to Amida — so much for her obligations. She will bring flowers and incense, just so that others may see her do it.    

But one can hardly notice when she paints a little powder on her face, impatient to be done with mourning before thirty-five days have passed. Her hair soon regains its luster, glistening with oil, and is all the more attractive because the wanton locks fall free of any hairdress. Then too, her underclothes run riot with color beneath a simple, unadorned garment - so unobtrusive, yet so seductive.   

And there is the woman who, feeling the emptiness of life because of some sad episode, shaves her head in order to spend the rest of her days in a secluded temple, where she will have only the morning dew to offer in memory of her husband, asleep beneath the grass. Among the things she must leave behind is a gown with fawn-spot designs and beautiful embroidery. “I shall not need this anymore. It should be made into a canopy or an altarcloth or a temple pennant” But in her heart the lady is thinking: “Too bad these sleeves are just a little too small. I might still wear them.”   

Nothing is more dreadful than a woman. No one can keep her from doing what her heart is set upon, and he who tries will be frightened off by a great demonstration of tears. So it is that widows vanish from the earth like ghosts, for none will long be true to a dead man's ghost. And so it is with certain men, except that a man who has killed off three or five wives will not be censured for taking another.   

But it was not so with Gengobei. Having seen two lovers die, he was led by true devotion to sequester himself in a grass hut on the mountainside, there to seek earnestly the way to salvation in the afterlife, and to seek naught else, for he had admirably determined to quit the way of the flesh.

At that time in Hama-no-Machi, on the Bay of Satsuma, lived a man from the Ryukyus who had a daughter named Oman. She was fifteen, graced with such beauty that even the moon envied her, and of a gentle, loving disposition. Every man who looked upon her, so ripe for love, wanted her for himself. But in spring of the past year Oman had fallen in love with that flower of manhood, Gengobei. She pined away for him and wrote him many letters, which a messenger delivered in secret. Still there was no answer from Gengobei, who had never in his life given thought to girls.  

It was heartbreaking for Oman. Night and day, day after day, she thought only of him and would consider offers of marriage from no other quarter. She went so far as to feign sudden illness, which puzzled everyone, and she said many wild things to offend people, so that they thought her quite mad. Oman still did not know that Gengobei had become a priest, until one day she heard someone mention the fact. It was a cruel blow, but she tried to console herself, saying that a day would come for her to fulfill her desires, a vain hope indeed, which soon turned to bitter resentment.   

“Those black robes of his—how I hate them! I must go to see him just once and let him know how I feel.”   

With this in mind, Oman bade farewell to her friends as if to leave the world for a nunnery. In secret she clipped her own hair to make it look like a boy’s. She had already taken care to get suitable clothing and was able to transform herself completely into a mannish young lover. Then, quietly, stealthily, she set out, bound for the Mountain of Love.   

As Oman stepped along she brushed the frost off the bamboo grass, for it was October, the Godless Month,[7] yet here was a girl true to her love. A long way she went, far from the village into a grove of cedars which someone had described to her. At the end of it could be seen the wild crags of a cliff and off to the west a deep cavern, in the depths of which one’s mind would get lost thinking about it. Across a stream lay some rotten logs — two, three, four of them, which were barely enough to support her. A treacherous bridge, Oman thought, as she looked down at the rapids below and saw crashing waves which would dash her to pieces. Beyond, on a little piece of flat land, was a lean-to sloping down from the cliff, its eaves all covered with vines from which water dripped, as if it were a “private rain.”   

On the south side of the hut a window was open. Oman peeped in to find that it was the poorest sort of abode. There was one rickety stove, in which lay a piece of green wood, only half burnt up. There were two big teacups, but no other utensils, not even a dipper or ladle.  

“How dismal!” she sighed as she looked around from outside. “Surely the Buddha must be pleased with one who lives in such miserable quarters.”   

She was disappointed to find the priest gone. “I wonder where to?” she asked, but there was no one there to tell her, nothing at all but the lonely pines, and nothing for her to do but wait, pining among the pines.   

Then she tried the door. Luckily it was open. Inside she found a book on his reading table. The Waiting Bed it was called, a book which described the origins of manly love.   

“Well,” she observed, “I see he still has not given up this kind of love.”   

She thought she would read while waiting for him to return, but soon it grew dark and she could hardly see the words. There was no lamp for her to use and she felt more and more lonely, waiting by herself in the darkness. True love is such that one will endure almost anything for it.   

It must have been about midnight when the bonze Gengobei came home, finding his way by the faint light of a torch. He had almost reached the hut, where Oman waited eagerly for him, when it seemed to her as if two handsome young men came toward him out of the withered underbrush. Each was as beautiful as the other. Either one could have been justly called a “flower of spring" or a "maple leaf in fall." And they seemed to be rivals in love, for one looked resentful and the other deeply hurt. They both made ardent advances toward Gengobei, but he was just one and they were two, and he was helpless to choose between them.  

Oman watches Gengobei and the two boys

Seeing the agitated, tortured expression on Gengobei's face, Oman could not help feeling a tender sympathy for him. Nevertheless, it was a discouraging sight for her.   

“So he has love enough for many men,” she said bitterly. “Still, I am committed to this affair and cannot leave it as it stands. I shall simply have to open my heart to him.”   

Oman went toward him, looking so determined that the two young men took fright and vanished into the night. She, in turn, was startled at their disappearance, and Gengobei at seeing her.   

“What sort of young man are you?” he asked.  

“As you can see I am one who has taken up the way of manly love. I have heard so much about you, Sir Priest, that I came all the way to meet you at the risk of my life. But these many loves of yours - I knew nothing of them. I have loved you in vain. It was all a mistake.”   

In the midst of her wailing Gengobei clapped his hands in delight. “How could I fail to appreciate such love as that!” he exclaimed as his fickle heart went out to her. “Those two lovers you saw are dead—just illusions.”  

Oman wept and he with her. “Love me in their stead,” she begged. “Do not turn me away.”   

“Love is hard to pass up,” he replied coyly, “even for a priest.”   

Perhaps Buddha would forgive him. After all, Gengobei did not know his lover was a girl.

4.  Variety is the spice of love

“When I first entered the religious life,” Gengobei was saying, “I promised Buddha that I would give up completely the love of women. But I knew it would be very hard to give up the love of young men, and I asked him to be lenient with me in this. Now there is no one who can censure me for it, because I made it all plain to the Buddha from the beginning. Since you loved me enough to come all the way in search of me, you must never forsake me later on.”  

Gengobei said these things half in jest, but it was doubly a joke for Oman. She pinched her thigh and held her breast to keep from laughing.   

“Listen now to what I say,” she said in great seriousness. “I was deeply touched by your troubles in the past, and it seems a pity that you should have become a priest. My coming here shows how great was my anguish. I risked my life for your love. From now on you must promise to think no more of taking up with other men. Even if the things I say do not suit you exactly, you must never disobey them. When you have made that solemn pledge, I will give you my all and promise to love you even after death.”  

It was a foolish thing for Gengobei to do, but he gave his solemn promise. “For a sweetheart like this I would do anything, even leave the priesthood if it came to that.” 

Panting with desire, he slipped his hand up her sleeve and felt her naked body. It was strange. His lover wore no underwear.[8]   

Gengobei's puzzled expression amused Oman, but it was her turn to be puzzled when Gengobei took something from his toilet bag and put it in his mouth to chew on it.   

“What are you doing?” she asked.   

Without a word he hid whatever it was—perhaps what lovers of men call nerigi.[9] This, too, struck Oman as funny and she turned away to lie face downward.   

Taking off his clothes, with one foot Gengobei kicked them into a comer and proceeded to the business of love-making, always an absorbing business no matter who you are. He slipped off her sash, which, having been made for a young man, was only of medium width and tied in the rear. Then it occurred to him that his lover might not be accustomed to cool nights in the country, so he threw a large cotton night-robe over “him.” 

“Now!” he said, lying down with his head on her arm.   

The bonze had hardly settled into bed before he was dizzy with excitement. He ran his hand around her hack nervously. “This boy hasn't even a moxa scar yet - hasn’t been touched at all.”   

But when Gengobei began to move his hand slowly down from her hips, it made Oman uneasy. At this point, she thought, it might be best if she pretended to fall asleep.   

Impatient, the bonze began playing with her ear, and she threw one leg over him, revealing some woman's underwear of scarlet crepe.   

Gengobei was amazed. He took a careful look at her and realized what a soft face his lover had, just like a woman's. The discovery left him dumbfounded. For a few minutes he could say nothing. Then he tried to get out of bed, but Oman held on to him tightly.   

“Before, you promised to do anything I said, no matter what it was. Have you forgotten so soon? I am called Oman of the Ryukyu family. Last year I sent you one love note after another, but you were so unkind as to leave them all unanswered. There was nothing I could do to heal the wound in my heart, nothing but to disguise myself this way and come here to see you. Can you blame me for it?"  

When Oman had said this, she brought her lovely young body close to his. In no time at all Gengobei lost himself in a desire for her.  

“What difference does it make—the love of men or the love of women?” he cried, overpowered by the bestial passion which rules this fickle world.    

Such sudden infatuations are common to us all, not limited to Gengobei alone. Traps they may be, yet few can refuse the invitation to fall in. Even one of the Buddha’s feet may have slipped in.


5.  The man who has too much money

It takes only a year to grow a head of hair. When he had cast off his holy robes, the young bonze looked like the old Gengobei, and he started calling himself by that name again.   

In the mountains, where there are no calendars, people tell the seasons by the blooming and falling of the plum blossoms. It was January when Gengobei gave up monastic abstinence for a life of idle pleasure. In early February he went to see an old friend who lived outside Kagoshima and rented from him a little thatched cottage where he could live in seclusion with Oman. But as they had no means of livelihood, Gengobei went to visit the home of his parents, only to find that it had been sold into other hands. What once had been a respectable moneychanger’s office no longer knew the ring of gold and silver on metal scales. Near the entrance was now hung a sign reading “Bean-curd,” the sight of which made Gengobei sick at heart.   

He asked a stranger: “What has happened to the man Gengoemon who used to live around here?”   

“I have heard,” the stranger told him, “that he was once a good and prosperous man. He had a son called Gengobei, the handsomest young man of this province, but also a slave to love. In eight years time Gengobei wasted over eight thousand pounds of silver on his pleasures, and the loss unfortunately meant ruination for the old man, which just goes to show how things can turn out. Later on, they say, Gengobei gave up the world of pleasure for the life of a monk, all because of some love affair. Can you imagine being as thoughtless as that? Whenever people speak of him, they say: ‘I'd just like to meet that rascal once, face to face!”   

“That face is right here,” Gengobei thought to himself, and out of shame he pulled his straw hat far down over his head.   

At last he returned to his lodging place, where there was no lamp to see by at night and no firewood for chilly mornings. What was even more depressing, love and love-malting did not thrive on hard times. The lovers slept side-by-side on the same pillow, but had nothing to say to each other in the way of bedtime talk.   

Then morning came and it was March third, the day of the Doll's Festival. Little boys ran about with presents of bean cakes for their relatives. Outside there were cockfights and various other amusements. But still it was a dreary day inside for the lovers. They had not even a sardine to put upon the tray set before the altar. They broke off a sprig of peach blossom and, since there was no saké, set the blossoms in their empty saké jar. That was all. When day faded into night, the fourth followed in dismal succession.    

Oman and Gengobei put on plays

Once, as they were thinking of a way to earn a living, it occurred to them to put on plays such as they had once seen in the capital. In no time at all Gengobei made up his face with a false mustache so that he looked the part of the gallant Slave to Love.[10] Indeed he seemed the living image of the actor Arashi Sanemon,[11] except that his carriage on the stage was poor because his hips swayed like an amateur’s.

“Yakkono, yakkono,”[12] he sang. And then:

              Gengobei, where did you go?
              To the hills of Satsuma,
              With a scabbard worth three cents,
              And a sword-knot only two,
              And a sword inside of cypress wood.

While he sang thus in a loud voice to amuse the children of one village after another, Oman dressed herself up in faded garments to perform kyogen[13] and other dramatic acts. Together they lived along in a world where tears were as plentiful as dew. It was not easy living on love. They had to lose all sense of pride and wore themselves thinner each day until their old beauty was lost too. Still, in this cruel world, there was no one who felt any pity for them. They were as helpless against fate as the purple blossoms of the wisteria, doomed to fade and die. They cursed their friends, pitied themselves. At last it seemed as if the end had come.  

Then it so happened that Oman’s parents came along, anxiously searching for their daughter. When they found her it was an occasion for great rejoicing. They decided that, since Gengobei was the man of Oman‘s heart, the two should be united in wedlock and given the family home and fortune. A whole retinue of servants came to escort them home, where their return brought joy to all.  

To Gengobei were turned over all the keys to the family possessions, three hundred and eighty-three of them. A date was set for the wedding and the storage cellar was opened up. In it were great trays of money, six hundred and fifty of them, each marked “82 pounds of silver.” All the coins were covered with mould and seemed to have been hidden away for so long that one could almost hear them groaning to be let out of confinement.    

Gengobei is given the family possessions

In the northeast corner of the cellar stood seven large jars, full of newly-minted coins that spilled out through the cover and lay about like sand littering the floor. Outside in a separate storehouse there was a mountain of fine clothes which had originally come from China, and a piece of aloewood as large as the beam on which a cauldron is hung over a fire. There were one thousand two hundred and thirty-five flawless coral beads, weighing from one and a half to one hundred and thirty momme each; sharkskin for sword handles; celadon porcelain in unlimited quantities; fine teacups from the Asuka River region, piled about carelessly because it made no difference how many got broken; some salted Mermaids;[14] a small bucket made of agate; a rice pounder from the Taoist paradise of Han-tan in China; a kitchen-knife box from Old Urashima;[15] a scarf from Benzaiten, Goddess of Beauty; a razor made for the long-headed Fukurokuju, God of Luck; the spear of Tamon, Guardian of Heaven; a winnow from the God of Plenty large enough to winnow five thousand bushels of rice; and so many other things that one could not remember them all. Indeed, all the treasures of the world were there.  

Gengobei was so happy that he wept.

“I could buy up all the beauties of Edo, Kyoto, and  Osaka.[16] I could finance all the theatres.[17] And still it would take more than my lifetime to spend this whole fortune. No matter how hard I tried, I could not think of a way to use the money up. What in the world will I do with it?”


[1] P.G. Schalow, The Great Mirror of Male Love (Stanford, 1990) pp. 29-30.

[2] Translator’s observation, page 8.

[3] In his introduction, the translator says that wakashudo (Japanese boy-love) flourished particularly in “places where an individualistic and warlike tradition was still strong and men scorned the love of women as effeminate. Satsuma was one of these, and the last of Saikaku’s five women had to win her Satsuma man away from the love of young boys.” (p. 26)

[4] All debts were to be repaid on this date, and monks were not immune to the claims of creditors. [Translator’s note 1]

[5] Site of a monastery founded in the ninth century by the great patriarch Kobo Daishi. It ranked with Mt. Hiei as the most important of Buddhist centers. [Translator’s note 2]

[6] The seventh month of the lunar calendar, so called because at this time of year came the Tanabata Festival, when women and girls wrote love poems to the Celestial Shepherd (Vega, the Weaver). [Translator’s note 3]

[7] In October. it was believed, the gods all assembled at the great shrine of Izumo, leaving the rest of the country “godless.” [Translator’s note 4]

[8] That is, no men’s underwear, which tied around the waist. [Translator’s note 5]

[9]  According to de Bary, the translator, “An aphrodisiac made from the hollyhock” (note 6). However, David Gundry, citing other historians, points out that de Bary has misunderstood its purpose. Rather, nerigi was “the dried root of a plant of the mallow family, which was chewed to produce an anal lubricant.” (Parody, Irony and Ideology in the Fiction of Ihara Saikaku, Leyden, 2017, p. 155.

[10] Gengobei himself, as portrayed in the theatre in Saikaku’s time. [Translator’s note 7]

[11] Famous actor of Saikaku’s time who played the role of Gengobei. [Translator’s note 8]

[12] Rhythmic chant, introducing a popular song about Gengobei. [Translator’s note 9]

[13] Kyogen—in this case an early form of Kabuki. [Translator’s note 10]

[14] A kind of salamander. [Translator’s note 11]

[15] The submarine palace of the goddess Otohime. [Translator’s note 12]

[16] The top-ranking female prostitutes (tayu), whose debts he would have to pay off to make them his own. [Translator’s note 13]

[17] With their male actor-prostitutes. [Translator’s note 14]




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