Four remarkable double-page & seven full-page woodcuts in Vol. I. Four vols. Small 8vo, orig. patterned wrappers (upper cover of first vol. soiled), orig. block-printed title labels on upper covers, new stitching. Edo: Tsuruya Kinsuke, 1811.
First edition of one of the two most famous fictional works by Shikitei and his student Basho Rakutei. The writings of Shikitei “are generally recognised as the best guide to the speech of the period. Describing the speech of Edo people, Shikitei [in the present work] makes a distinction between what he calls Hon-Edo (‘Proper’ Edo) and Edo-Namari (‘Corrupt’ or ‘Common’ Edo). Hon-Edo was the type of language used by samurai, and also by well-educated merchants, while Edo-Namari was confined mainly to the lower class ordinary townsmen.”–Hiroko C. Quackenbush, “Edo and Tokyo dialects” in C. Andrew Gerstle, ed., 18th Century Japan: Culture and Society, p. 73–and she includes samples from Kyogen inaka ayatsuri on the following pages.
The narrator is a puppet named Dekuzo who tells the story of the lives of a travelling puppet troupe in the countryside. Because of changing tastes, the troupe had failed in the big city and decided to try its luck in the countryside. Dekuzo’s story is essentially one of a particular subculture: a struggling touring troupe arriving in a small town, the preparations for their performance, the performance itself, and the reactions of the audience.
Shikitei (1776-1822), was a significant literary figure of the early 19th century. His kokkeibon (humorous books) and other works are prized for their depiction of the vibrant life of working-class urban communities. The quite remarkable woodcuts are by the precocious Kuninao Utagawa (1793-1854), “one of the better followers of Toyokuni.”–Hillier, The Art of the Japanese Book, p. 789. Curiously, the colophon in Vol. IV states that the illustrations are by Utamaro Kitagawa. The cataloguing by the Union Catalogue of Early Japanese Books also includes Utamaro II as an illustrator.
In Vol. I, the first fine double-page woodcut depicts the stage, with narrator and shamisen player on the right and three puppeteers controlling the puppets in front of them. The next double-page woodcut shows the front of the theater with the throngs of people waiting to enter, food vendors, and a drum tower in the background. Following these are six single-page woodcuts depicting all the parts of the puppets, with instructions on how to manipulate them. These puppets were for sale, as we learn from the following double-page woodcut facsimiles of contracts, which deal with the sale and rights. They deal with the sale and rights to these puppets. The final full-page woodcut contains reproductions of backstage warning signs: “Do not Urinate,” “Beware of Thieves,” “No Drinking,” “No Women,” etc.
Nice condition. There is no copy of this book in WorldCat.
Item ID: 7012