Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Floating World

Stories of the Floating World became a literary genre in the early Tokugawa period (late 17th to early 18th century) and told of escapades, mostly erotic, in the pleasure quarters of various Japanese cities. The pioneer for this genre was Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693), who wrote a myriad of such tales. In The Life of a Sensuous Man (1682), Saikaku traces the life of Yonosuke, who travels from town to town sleeping with as many women and men as he can. In many ways, to me at least, the floating world genre seems to be a direct extension of Genji - who also goes around sleeping with about anything that moves. Nevertheless – towards the end, when Yonosuke is in his sixties and thinking back on all his years, he ponders the meaning of life. Does he reach a conclusion regarding the emptiness that his life’s work (of chasing tail) has achieved? Sure, but not quite what you would expect. He decides to build a ship and take seven other men "of like mind" to the Island of Women.

They packed well enough to be prepared for any possible contingency:

"The galley was filled with stamina-stretching foods. Loach, a kind of carp, swam in boat-shaped tubs of fresh water, surrounded by stores of burdocks, yams, and eggs carefully preserved in earth and sand. Into the hold were placed fifty large jars of Kidney Combustion Pellets and twenty crates of Women Delighter Pills, both powerful herbal aphrodisiacs for men. They also took aboard 250 pairs of metal masturbation balls for women, 7,000 dried taro stalks to be soaked in warm water and used by pairs of women, 600 latticed penis attachments, 2,550 water-buffalo-horn dildos, 3,500 tin dildos, 800 leather dildos, 200 erotic prints, 200 copies of The Tales of Ise, 100 loincloths, and 900 bales of tissue paper."

A fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that. Still some things they had to get along the way:

"Checking, they found they’d forgotten many things. So then they brought aboard 200 casks of clove-oil lubricant; 400 packets of hot-sliding pepper ointment; 1,000 roots of cow-knee grass for inducing abortions; 133 pounds each of mercury, crushed cotton seeds, red pepper, and imported amaranthus roots for the same purpose; as well as various other lovemaking aid and implements. Then they loaded great numbers of stylish men’s robes and diapers."

I don't have any commentary to put on top of that - though I must I admit I kept wondering about "Kidney Combustion Pellets" for quite a while.

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