Jippensha Ikku was the pen name of Shigeta Sadakazu who was a Japanese writer during the late Edo period of Japan. In his introduction to Hizakurige, known as Ikku’s ‘Afterthought’, Ikku explains with the following passage.

“On the plain of Musashi, says the poem, the flowering
grasses melt into the white clouds on the horizon. That
was long long ago, when they used to delight in the
swift flight of snipe in the twilight from the marshes behind the
reed huts. But then, of course, they didn’t know what the
pleasure-quarter looks like when it is lit up in the evening.”(p.369)

Ikku is describing the Kanto Plain where Tokyo is now located, although it was then known as the Musashi Plain (“Notes on the geography of Japan”). Prior to the establishment of Edo, the Musashi Plain was a deserted and remote area far away from the old capital in Kyoto.

Eventually, the Edo castle was built on Musashi Plain, which became the centrepiece for what would become the new capital.

Musashi Plain: Then and Now

Edo Castle. Public domain image from “Daimyo of Musashi Province” 2009
Tokyo on Musashi Plain today: O’keefe 2008

Today, Tokyo and its suburbs belong to the metropolitan sprawl that covers the area that Ikku was discussing. Still, replicas of the area can be seen in the Edo-Tokyo museum, including the Nakamura-za Kabuki Theatre, which was located in the pleasure quarters that the poem refers to.

Replica of the Nakamura-za Kabuki Theatre in the Edo-Tokyo Museum From “Notes on the geography of Japan”, 2016

Meanwhile, during Ikku’s lifetime, the Edo language that was evolving exhibited great diversity and represents one of the great contrasts between Kansai (Kyoto/Osaka) and the Edo spoken and written languages (Clarke 1989, p.63). At the time, Edo dialect was being used in many literary forms during an enormous period of growth in literature and popular writing. Included were the Edo sharebon (books of the pleasure quarters) that began to appear in the Horeki period (1751-63); the senryu (humorous verse in haiku) and the kibyoshi (yellow covers) from the Meiwa (1764-71) and the An’ei (1772-80); the yomihon (story books), the kokkeibon (comic fiction), and the kusazoshi (illustrated popular novels) from the Bunka-Bunsei periods; and the ninjoban (love stories) which began to appear around the 1820s (Clarke 1989, p.63). This period thus marks a time when Edo culture began to flourish and would soon rival the great power centre to the south. All of this took place in just 150 years as the deserted Musashi Plain was transformed into a highly influential location that drew people from all over Japan.

 

Works Cited

Clarke, H. B. D. (1989). The development of Edo language. In C. A. Gerstle (Ed.), 18th century Japan: Culture and society (pp. 63-72). New York, NY: Routledge.

“Daimyo of Musashi Province.” (2008). Gamer’s guide to feudal Japan. Retrieved from http://www.diffworlds.com/samurai/Provinces/musashi.htm

Ikku, J. (2001). Shank’s mare: Japan’s great comic novel of travel & ribaldry. (T. Satchell, Trans.). North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle.

“Notes on the geography of Japan.” (2016). Notes on the geography of places. Retrieved from http://www.greatmirror.com/index.cfm?navid=898

O’Keefe, K. (2008). “Badgers invade Japan! Holsteinworld.” Retrieved from http://www.allbreedsblog.com/2008/09/23/badgers-invade-japan/#sthash.6tLz0PP5.dpbs

 

Editor: Jason Zhang

(Edited by Elle Marsh)