SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

YANG Sung-Yun “Classic Japanese Literature (Ihara Saikaku) and Myself”


2020 was the last year of my academic life abroad amid of COVID-19 pandemic.

I have been studying Japanese expression culture in classic literature of the EDO period especially literature by IHARA SAIKAKU (1642-1693) and it was indispensable work for me to read source materials. It was a narrower path for me to reach source materials because of COVID-19. There are a lot of classic literature reprinted and we can see on the web site on databases. However, for my studying purpose, there are a lot of undisclosed manuscripts which are possessed by local libraries. If we can read cursive style of Japanese characters, we would be able to understand materials of history of the EDO culture more easily. But it was not easy to access such materials because there are limitations to enter University libraries under the pandemic. It seems we are far from the end of COVID-19 and re-opening of libraries.


I started to have a sense of mission without realizing which I had to search for Japanese literature and culture in avant-garde way. It was neither my impatience with which I publish result of my study nor intention which I grant privilege to SAIKAKU (a great author in the Genroku era). It originated from one big problem.


When I was studying Japanese literature in Korea University, I had an abstract question “Is it possible to think about ‘now and here’ transcending time?” I thought, in order to reconsider our society how it should be? It was necessary to view them by keeping some distance.

In some cases, it will be necessary to have an intellectual attitude positively and reflectively. It may seem conflicting at first glance. But I decided to study Japanese expression culture before the Modern period at Graduate School and took notice of the fact that people in the Edo period have been keen to make a record of gossip and rumor.


It was beyond my imagination that Japanese in the Modern period liked strange topics and gossips. We can find various mysterious incidents and gossips in collection of stories (esp. myths, legends etc.), essays, diaries and memoirs starting from local countries’ talk, desultory gossip stories. Those stories or gossips were self-portrait of the Modern society, and they had a meaning of exchange of information.

Therefore, I decided to study on the collection of strange talks named “Saikaku Shokoku-banashi (local countries’ talk)” (issued in 1685) and “Futokoro Suzuri (Inkstone in my bosom)” (issued in 1687). Saikaku tilted his attention to contemporary people and their way of thinking and described them vividly in his books. In his collection of strange talks, Saikaku described affairs of contemporary human customs and behavior using anecdotes, folk tales and legends at that time without retaining original appearance. There were a lot of fakes in his strange talks even though he liked to convey actualities in principle (based on actualities). It means customs and behavior or sentimental routine by contemporary people were written in transformed way. In other words, the problem is that when we are impressed by a particular story, it is not so easy for us to have questions why that expression was possible.


It is difficult whether we can think about ‘now and here’ transcending time as mentioned above. It will be an important opportunity to get answer to the question how we can think about ‘now and here’ transcending time. During this ten year, I have been studying how Saikaku produced his works and re-talking how we can share excitement with people at that time reading strange talks by Saikaku. Against such backdrop of awareness of the problem, I wrote my doctoral dissertation “Study of Strange Talks by Saikaku” examining the Talks precisely. I tried to explain strange portion in the Talks clearly as much as possible and made his performing activities (provoking power of expression) reactively. The method of my study was various, but ‘annotations’ were common.


A word ‘annotation’ seems stiff or formal feeling. But I examined each word which predecessors have used and investigated its’ meaning and sources. Annotation is the base of my examination for example of the past and construe or understand works turning back to the time. Every works was bound by institutional thought and sensibility which current people cannot be aware of. Annotation is a procedure which invites us to rich interpretation keeping time and space. At the same time, annotation is positive and reflective attitude against modern expression culture. Attractiveness of classic literatures is a tool for re-talking about our current world newly and give us a chance to enrich our social imagination.  


However, classic literature may be forgotten someday unless it would be accepted. Saikaku wrote in his Strange Talks emotion and living behavior by Samurai and town people vividly which have not been appeared in the limelight of the history. It raised the question what was humanity of the people in Edo period? I have been sharing my new knowledge about history of expression culture in Japan through my study of his Strange Talks. The works of Saikaku were good objects of reconsideration in our way of life and how our society should be having a function of ‘reflecting mirror’. It will be my main subject to show to ordinary people and to spin old experiences of people who lived before modern era to new experience.

I like to continue my study together with Atsumi International Foundation.



SGRA Kawaraban 681 in Japanese (Original)



YANG Sung-Yun / 2020 Raccoon, Lecturer of Korean University, Faculty of Japanese Language and Literature


Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sabina Koirala