Sharebon (witty book) (洒落本)

Sharebon (literally, witty book) is a type of gesaku literature in the mid-Edo period. A small-sized format as large as quarter-sized hanshi (standard-sized Japanese paper for writing) was used for Sharebon books, which were also called 'konnyakubon' (literally "a konjak jelly book" due to their appearance).

Most Sharebon works were written about amusements in places for pleasure(such as yukaku, red-light districts. It idealized iki (the way of life, or style in fashion and art, combining material sensuality and elegant sophistication), and mainly described the stratagems between prostitutes in a pleasure quarters and their customers and had plots that made vulgar customers laughing stocks. People read them not only as enjoyable stories, but also as books that gave lessons in practical behavior for the pleasure quarters and as a kind of guidebook.

They originate in books like some Yujo hyoban-ki (guidebooks to prostitutes in the red-light districts) in kana zoshi (novels written for women and children using kana rather than Chinese characters to make them easily understood), and the descriptions of pleasure quarters appearing in the Ukiyozoshi (literally, Books of the Floating World) of Saikaku IHARA and others. The "Ryoha shigen" (Words on the Wine Cup of the Pleasure Quarters, 1728) and "Shirin zanka" (Remaining Flowers of the Historical Forest), published in the Kyoho era and humorously describing the manners and customs of Yoshiwara in Edo (the most famous pleasure quarter during the Edo period) in kanbun (Sino-Japanese) style, are regarded as the first well-known sharebon works.

Later they came to be written in a mainly conversation style using colloquial language. In the "Iso Rokujo" (Six Booklets of Exotic Elements, 1757) written by 无々道人 (the nom-de-plume of Toko SAWADA, a scholar of the Chinese classics), three scholars, one in Buddhism, one in the study of waka poetry and one in Confucianism, have hilarious and frivolous discussions about sex, love affairs, and the pleasure quarters.

"Yushi Hogen" (The Rake's Patois, 1770) was written in the Meiwa era, and with it the style of the sharebon took final shape. It is the story of a man who plays the connoisseur bringing his innocent son to Yoshiwara, and the author describes the manners and customs in Yoshiwara and the contrast between iki and yabo (vulgarity), and it takes conversations between the main characters and prostitutes in chaya (teahouses) and prostitutes in the red-light districts as its center. It earned a good reputation, and a lot of similar works were written. This genre is characterized by 'ugachi', which describes the details of pleasure quarters. Sharebon prospered before and after the Tenmei era, and had representative authors such as Kyoden SANTO. It is said that Nanpo OTA also wrote some works using several pseudonyms.

Under the Kansei Reforms, which were led by Sadanobu MATSUDAIRA, Kyoden's works (sharebon and kibyoshi, or "yellow covers", illustrated books of popular fiction whose covers were yellow) were prosecuted in 1791. There was a severe punishment, and the publisher Juzaburo TSUTAYA assessed an enormous fine, while Kyoden himself was handcuffed for fifty-days. Because of that, sharebon disappeared for a while. It began to revive in the late Kansei era, and writers such as Ikku JUPPENSHA and Sanba SHIKITEI wrote sharebon works as well. However, kokkeibon (humorous book) and ninjobon (romantic fiction), which described the world outside of pleasure quarters, gradually became the mainstream.

As for series collecting sharebon, there has been published a "Sharebon taisei" (with twenty-nine volumes and one supplementary volume, by Chuo Koronsha).

Major Literary Works

"Iso Rokujo" (Six Booklets of Exotic Elements, 1757) by 无々道人, another name for Toko SAWADA
"Yushi Hogen" (The Rake's Patois, 1770) by Inaka Rojin Tada no Jiji (Just an Old Man in Countryside)
"Koeki Shinwa" (1775) by Yamanote Bakahito (literally, Uptown Idiot), who is regarded as Nanpo OTA
(The story takes place in Naito Shinjuku along the Koshu-kaido [Koshu highway].)
"Keiseikai Tora no maki " (1778) by Tanishi Kingyo
"Tsugen Somagaki" (Stars of the Brothel, 1787) by Kyoden SANTO
"Kokei no sansho" (Three Madams and Their Dirty Tale, 1787) by Kyoden SANTO
"Keisei-kai Shijuhatte" (The Forty-Eight Grips in Buying a Whore, 1790) by Kyoden SANTO
"Shige Shige Chiwa" (1790) by Kyoden SANTO
"Keisei-kai Futasujimichi" (Two Different Ways of Buying a Courtesan, 1798) by Kokuga UMEBORI

[Original Japanese]