Item ID: 8484 Kengu irigomi sento shinwa [New Story of the Wise Man & the Fool at the Public Baths]. known also as the, Masanobu KITAO.
Kengu irigomi sento shinwa [New Story of the Wise Man & the Fool at the Public Baths].
Kengu irigomi sento shinwa [New Story of the Wise Man & the Fool at the Public Baths].
Kengu irigomi sento shinwa [New Story of the Wise Man & the Fool at the Public Baths].
Kengu irigomi sento shinwa [New Story of the Wise Man & the Fool at the Public Baths].
Kengu irigomi sento shinwa [New Story of the Wise Man & the Fool at the Public Baths].

The Public Baths in Edo: The Great Leveler

How to Celebrate the New Year

Kengu irigomi sento shinwa [New Story of the Wise Man & the Fool at the Public Baths].

Double-page & full-page woodcuts throughout. 15 folding leaves. Three parts bound in one vol., complete, with all the orig. parts’ wrappers bound-in. Small 8vo (173 x 124 mm.), orig. wrappers, woodcut label with illus. on upper cover (partly defective), stitched (loose). Edo: Tsuruya Kiemon (Toriaburacho Tsurukichi), from the first leaf: “Spring 1802.”

First edition of this kibyoshi (“yellow-covered book”) and very rare; there is no copy of this edition in WorldCat. This is a rare survival and excellent example of a kibyoshi, small format and inexpensive books with yellow covers, mostly illustrated and containing popular stories for adults. These books tended to be published in early January. Kibyoshi were amongst the most widely read type of publication during the years 1770-1805, and more than 2000 titles were published.

Santo Kyoden (1761-1816), a member of the Kitao School, was equally famous as a novelist and an artist; his writings and illustrations were mostly in a humorous vein. He was one of the most important authors of the genres kibyoshi, sharebon, and yomihon, all of which fall into the broad category of gesaku (popular literature). His writings exhibit comedic skills and linguistic gymnastics; he was one of the first writers of fiction in Japan to earn a living from his pen.

Santo Kyoden had run afoul of the authorities after the Kansei reform and the imposition of harsher censorship laws in 1791. As a result, he was careful in the present book not to violate any governmental strictures, despite the book’s subject and possibilities. We also know that this book influenced Shikitei Samba’s very popular Ukiyoburo (1809-13).

In this book, Santo Kyoden produced both the text and illustrations. The yellow cover of this rare work has pasted on it a woodcut (100 x 100 mm.) by Santo, printed in black & white with a delicate ochre background. It is a little masterpiece of information, depicting a “beauty” holding a puppy and a child in front. The publisher’s logo — a crane serving as a motif on a lantern — is in the upper right corner, and Kyoden has fitted his own name and the publisher’s name in the woodcut along with the title. The upper left corner of the woodcut is missing a small portion.

To truly understand Edo daily life of the period, a visit to the public baths is instructive. The public bath culture was a strong one, and the baths were the great “levelers” of Edo society, with many kinds of people, of different social strata, entering. The present book celebrates the “New Year bath,” a ritual observed in Edo, and provides a wonderful introduction about the public bath culture, the conversations and concerns of the customers and employees, etc. The first image of the first part, a full-page woodcut, depicts the manager, seated on a raised platform at the entrance of the bathhouse, taking money from a customer. The manager is also renting towels and small sacks filled with rice bran, which served as body scrubs and cleansers. The following double-page woodcut depicts the baths themselves with a zakuro-guchi, a hanging curtain or panel descending halfway down to the floor, designed to keep the steam and heat in the room. Ornaments marking the New Year are present.

The next image shows the baths behind the zakuro-guchi, with naked men of all social levels mixed together, washing, being scrubbed by bathhouse employees, and conversing. This is followed by a scene of men bathing in a large tub. The final scene of this part shows employees cleaning the bathing area at the end of the day.

In the second part, the first image depicts an employee using a ladle to provide hot fresh water for customers’ pails. The next image depicts women standing in front of the bathhouse and discovering that it is closed for the day. Then we have an image of employees having a party in the bathhouse, drinking sake and clearly having a jolly time. The next image shows customers wringing out their towels and ascending to the second floor for food and drink.

Next, a double-page woodcut depicts the women’s section of the bathhouse, with a separate entrance. We see women and children in various states of undress, etc. The following woodcut shows naked men conversing and waiting for their buckets to be filled. The final image of this part shows a man who has fainted from the heat, cared for by other customers.

The third part begins with an image of some sort of trouble in front of the bathhouse. This is followed by a wonderful image of the second floor, where men are being served food and drink and playing board games, with lockers in the background. The next image shows two men having a fight in the downstairs bathing area, alongside several samurai changing clothes. This is followed by a double-page woodcut of the changing area, with advertisements in the background for the bathhouse’s cleaning products, including medicine and toothpaste, and for theater performances. The penultimate woodcut, double-page, is of an employee confronting a bathhouse monster on the final day of the year. The monster is composed of all the dead skin of that year’s customers! The final image, a single-page woodcut, depicts Santo Kyoden on New Year’s Day, seated with a woman.

The text and dialogue are incredibly rich in puns, double-meanings, and jokes, many of which we do not understand today. The bathhouses were also places to meet and gossip and exchange stories and information. There are two notice boards with instructions for proper rules and etiquette within the bathhouse. While these appear to be straightforward, the instructions are full of puns. One back scrubber states that his client’s back has little moles that resemble mice feces. In another woodcut, there is a shortage of dialogue, so Santo Kyoden fills in the space with his own advertisements.

Very good copy, preserved in a chitsu. There is some worming in the gutter throughout, sometimes touching text and image. About ten of the leaves also have worming in the center.

Price: $5,500.00

Item ID: 8484