Gesaku (literary work of a playful, mocking, joking, silly or frivolous nature) (戯作)

Gesaku is a general term for yomimono (reading) that had flourished in Edo since the late early-modern times, or around the latter half of the 18th century. It was made until the early Meiji period. The writer of Gesaku was called Gesakusha.

Gesaku is roughly classified into Sharebon book (a gay-quarter novelette), Kokkeibon (humorous book), Dangibon (humorous sermons), Ninjobon (sentimental fiction), Yomihon (books for reading), Kusazoshi (illustrated story books), and so on. According to its contents or shape, Kusazoshi is classified into Akahon (a red-covered storybook), Kurohon (a black-covered storybook), Aohon (an illustrated storybook), Kibyoshi (an illustrated storybook in yellow covers), and Gokan (bound-together volumes of illustrated books).

Sharebon book
Sharehon is a book about amusements in yusho (a red-light district). The representative work is "Keisei-kai Shijuhatte" (The 48 Grips in Buying a Whore) written by Kyoden SANTO.

Kokkeibon book
Kokkeibon is a book of humorous stories. The representative works are "Ukiyo-buro" (The bathhouse of the floating world) by Sanba SHIKITEI and "Tokai dochu hizakurige" (Travels on Foot on the Tokaido) by Ikku JUPPENSHA.

Dangibon book
Dangibon is the early Kokkieibon that had both humor and teachings.

Ninjobon book
Ninjobon is a book mainly dealing with romance. The leading Ninjobon books are "Shunshoku umegoyomi" (Spring-Color Plum Calendar) and "Harutsugedori" written by Shunsui TAMENAGA.

Yomihon book
Although there were Yomihon with a frontispiece or illustrations, but most of them were books for reading which contained only texts, so they were called Yomihon (books for reading). It was made under the influence of Hakuwa Shosetsu (Chinese novel) in the Chinese literature. Authors sometimes collected historical facts, but basically they wrote fictions. They were books for reading based on the idea of kanzen choaku (rewarding good and punishing evil); encouraging the good and punishing the evil. It had an aspect of entertainment, but compared with Kusazoshi, it was regarded as something that had high literary quality. The early Yomihon were written by intellectual people. As the publishing systems such as printing technology and pay for the writing were improved, many people came to read Yomihon, but the circulation of it was not as much as that of Kusazoshi. In Edo and Osaka, the writers such as Akinari UEDA, Bakin KYOKUTEI, and Kyoden SANTO wrote the books vigorously.

The representative work of the Yomihon are "The Tale of Ugetsu" by Akinari and "Nanso satomi hakkenden" (The story of eight dog samurai and a princess of Satomi family in Nanso region) by Bakin.

Kusazoshi book
Kusazoshi is a story book that had illustrations and whose story was written with kana (the Japanese syllabary). It was sometimes called Ezoshi or just Ehon (picture book). Most of them were written for children, but it gradually became comical books for adults. They are classified according to the color of cover and the contents.

Akahon book
Books for children. Old tales such as Momotaro (Peach Boy).

Kurohon book
Books dealing with loyalty seen in a revenge or a martial romance.

Aohon book
Synopses of a play written for boys and women.

Kibyoshibon book
Books for adults with a high aspect of entertainment. People enjoyed solving wordplays hidden in the text and illustrations more than just reading a story. The cover of the book was yellow, but it was not distinguished from the Aohon in those days. It was classified by the scholar in later years.

Gokan book
It had a long story and was separated into more than three books, but bounded into one book. It had illustrations but was more similar to the Yomihon in its contents. Sometimes Kusazoshi refers to the Gokan.

The term 'Gesaku' itself had been used from ancient China, therefore under its influence; it was also used in Japan before the Edo period. The parody or expressions in a mocking tone of the original text came to be called Gesaku.

Gesaku in the Edo period
Under the influence of Sorai OGYU and others, the novels written in colloquial language in the Chinese literature in those days were introduced and studied that led Yomihon and others to be written. Gennai HIRAGA, who wrote "Furyu Shidoken den" (The Tale of Dashing Shidoken) and so on, is said to have been a pioneer of the Gesaku writer. Most of the early Gesaku writers such as Nanpo OTA belonged to the samurai warrior class. Since the middle of the 18th century, the Sharebon and the Kibyoshi of the Kusazoshi had flourished.

However, due to suppression of the Kansei Reforms, the Gesaku that had been written until then became obsolete, and instead the Gesaku writers from the common classes appeared, such as Sanba SHIKITEI and Ikku JIPPENSHA. A lot of Gokan became popular in the genres of the Yomihon, the Ninjobon, and the Kusazoshi. In addition, the Ninjobon fell into a decline because of the Tenpo Reforms, the number of publishing Gokan increased to fill the blank.

Biographical material of the Gesaku writers

"Gesakusha senshu" (Selected Gesaku writers) by Hokaishi ISHIZUKA (an Eiinbon [a reproduction of the manuscript] by Tomomitsu HIROSE is contained in "Kasama sosho" 96 (1978).
"Gesakusha shoden" (A biographical sketch of the Gesaku writers) by Kattoshi IWAMOTO (collected in the second volume of "Enseki Jusshu" [a selection of essays in Edo period])
"Gesaku rokkasen" (Selections of six Gesaku writers) by Kattoshi IWAMOTO (collected in the second volume of "Ensekijisshu")

The Gesaku literature in the Meiji period
The comical readings were not welcomed any more, and for a while the number of the professional writers decreased to five included Robun KANAGAKI. However, the restoration of the classic literature based on the political background, the appearances of a serial novel style on newspaper, typographical technology, and so on, brought Gokan to the limelight again from around 1877; Gesaku was still written during the Meiji period. It was necessary for Shoyo TSUBOUCHI and other writers to criticize Gesaku that had been written until then in order to bring the modern literature into existence.

[Original Japanese]