Published by arrangement with the Olympia Press.
Author: Ihara Saikaku
About: Saikaku, chronicler of the Floating World, that period when Japan closed its doors to the outside and livened things up all 'round Edo, where Geishas tred and samurai vied with merchants for prominence, is most-famous for this book.
It's the retold story of a woman who for various reasons had a career that spanned all aspects of the sensual life. Betimes a Geisha, a madame, a monk, and a bathhouse servant, she tells all to her young charges, and gives advice for how to visit a courtesan.
Classic often compared to Cleland's Fanny Hill, written in a similar timeframe, albeit on an island far away.
I did not begin life in my present humble state. My mother, it is
true, was not of noble lineage, but my father was the scion of a
gentleman who once enjoyed high rank in the court of the cloistered
Emperor Hanazono the Second. As is the way in this changing world of
ours, my father fell into decline—to such a point that life no longer
seemed worth the living. By good fortune I was well favoured in my
looks and was able to take service at court in attendance on a most
excellent lady. In due course I became accustomed to the elegance of
palace life, and had things continued as they were, I doubt not but
that I should after some years have risen in the world. But from the
beginning of my tenth summer I fell prey to wanton feelings. No longer
was I content to leave the styling of my hair to others; instead I was
guided by my own fastidious taste. Having carefully examined the
various fashions, I adopted a Shimada coiffure, without a chignon and
so shaped that it fell down at the back; this I secured with a hidden
paper cord after the fashion of the time. During this period I devoted
myself assiduously to the practice of Court Dyeing and I may say that
this art owes its later popularity to my efforts at that time. Now life
for those at court, whether they be reading poems or engaged in a game
of kemari, is ever flavoured with the spice of love.
Day and night my eyes were intoxicated with the vision of that one
thing alone and my ears palpitated with the sound of it. It is but
natural that all this should have called forth my own amorous
inclinations and indeed that I should have come to regard love as the
most important thing in life. It was about this time that I began to
receive tender missives from every quarter, all suing ardently for my
affection—and all equally disconsolate.
In the end I was hard put to find place to store them. Addressing
myself, then, to a soldier of the Guards—a man of few words—I had him
make these letters into ephemeral wisps of smoke; strange to relate,
those parts in which the writers had affirmed their love by invoking
the names of the myriad Gods did not burn, but were carried away by the
wind and blown to the Yoshida Shrine.
There is naught in this world so strange as love. The several men who
had set their affections on me were both fashionable and handsome; yet
none of them aroused any tender feelings in me. Now there was a humble
warrior in the service of a certain courtier. The fellow was low in
rank and of a type that most women would regard askance. Yet from the
first letter that he wrote me his sentences were charged with a passion
powerful enough to slay one. In note after note he set forth his ardent
feelings, until, without realizing it, I myself began to be troubled in
my heart. It was hard for us to meet, but with some cunning I managed
to arrange a tryst and thus it was that I gave my body to him.
Our amour was bound to become the gossip of the court and one dawn it
“emerged into the light.” In punishment I was banished to , the
neighbourhood of Uji Bridge. My lover, most grievous to relate, was put
to death. For some days thereafter, as I lay tossing on my bed, half
asleep, half awake, his silent form would appear terrifyingly before
me. In my agony I thought that I must needs take my own life; yet,
after some days had passed, I completely forgot about him. From this
one may truly judge that nothing in this world is as base and fickle as
a woman's heart.
Because I was only twelve years old at the time, people were disposed
to pass over my fault; indeed they could hardly believe such an
intrigue possible for one of my tender years. I myself could not help
being amused at their feelings. To be sure, young girls have changed
greatly. In former times, when a girl was about to set off for her
marriage, she would weep bitterly at the thought of leaving her
parents' roof. But our present-day young lady is cleverer by far. She
frets and chafes until the go-between appears at the door, quickly
slips into her finest clothes, waits impatiently for the arrival of the
palanquin and when it comes jumps into it hurry-scurry. Her joy shows
on her face up to the very tip of her nose. How different things used
to be! Until some forty years ago a girl would play on her bamboo
hobbyhorse by the gate of her house until she was seventeen or
eighteen, while a boy would wait until he was twenty-four to celebrate
the coming-of-age ceremony.
But I myself embarked on the way of love when I was yet a mere flower
bud, and, having first muddied myself in the Rapids of the Yellow Rose,
found ruin in dissipation, until in the end I came to purify myself by