Book review of Five Women Who Loved Love: Amorous Tales from 17th-Century Japan by Ihara Saikaku, Wm. Theodore de Bary (Translator)
Published in 1686 in feudal Japan, these five stories form a cautionary tale about the fate of those who cross societal boundaries. What is striking about the stories is that the women are from the newly coalescing middle class. This class itself has an outlaw spirit when contrasted to the feudal mentality in which birth and rank dictate everything. Moreover, the women in these stories allow themselves to be carried by passion beyond what the narrow strictures of their culture permits. The force of their individuality, which encompasses their choices in sexuality and love, leads to disaster in all but one of the stories. Yet the issues raised here have echoes today in such issues as women’s rights, same sex marriage, abortion, and the general question of whether women can be masters of their own fates. The storytelling is excellent, the glimpse into Japan of that time fascinating, the translation reads well, and I very much enjoyed these fictions.