skip to content

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

FAMES Room 8/9
Event date: 
Monday, 12 November, 2018 - 17:00 to 19:00

Japanese early-modern playful literature (gesaku) and censorship


From the second half of the eighteenth century to the nineteenth century in Edo many playful novels were produced. They are known under the label of gesaku (‘playful literature’) and include a variety of genres: sharebon (‘fashionable books’ dealing with the pleasure quarters), kibyōshi (‘yellow-cover picturebooks’), gōkan (‘bound picturebooks’), and ninjōbon (‘sentimental fiction’). These were often the subject of harsh control on the ground of the regulations around the publishing industry that had been issued in 1722. We talk about a form of censorship; one that regulated the publication of erotic and sexually-explicit books as well as prohibited works dealing with the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and the shogunate.

At the time of the Kansei Reforms (1787-1793) and of the Tenpō Reforms (1841-1843) the government strengthened the restrictions on the publication of playful novels, following its policy of enforcing the sumptuary laws and the rules around public morals. In 1804 a regulation banning the use of names and crests of any samurai who lived after the Tenshō period (1573-1592) was issued. This meant that there were severe restrictions on the temporal setting that could be chosen for gesaku novels. This paper will discuss what ideas were devised by gesaku authors in choosing contents and expressions that would avoid infringing on the existing regulations. This could be viewed as a form of surrender to the government, and yet I will argue differently. The fact that gesaku continued to be published, albeit amidst forms of self-control, speaks of the extent of its demand and allows us to gauge the passion of its publishers and authors.





Prof Yukiko Satō



Prof Satō Yukiko is Associate Professor at the University of Tokyo (Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, Faculty of Letters). She was awarded her PhD at the same University. Her research focusses on novels and performative arts from the late early-modern period into the Meiji era. More recently she has been working on the production of the modern rakugo writer and performer San’yūtei Enchō. She has also clarified how censorship hit the playful fictional prose known under the label of gesaku.

Major publications include: Edo no e-iri shōsetsu: gōkan no sekai (‘The illustrated novels of early-modern Japan: the world of gōkan’; Perikansha, 2011); Santō Kyōden: kokkei share daiichi no sakusha (‘Santō Kyōden: the number-one author in humour and puns’; Minerva shobō, 2009); Edo no shuppan tōsei: dan’atsu ni honrō sareta gesakucha tachi (‘Restrictions on publishing in Edo: The gesaku authors buffeted by coercion’; Yoshikawa Kōbunkan, 2017).




Mr Freddie Semple: