Kibyōshi are Edo period adult “comic books,” mostly in vogue in the late 18th century. They were popular, fashionable and humorous, which means critics with a penchant for “serious” literature (i.e., the entire literary establishment for the first century of the modern period) have ignored them. However, there are a lot of interesting things going on in kibyōshi, and recently they’ve started to attract a lot of attention.
I want to look at one particular kibyōshi by Santō Kyōden, arguably the master of the genre, titled Kyakujin jorō 客人女郎. To give credit where it is due, this work was originally brought to my attention while I was reading an article by Haruko Iwasaki. Iwasaki treats Kyakujin jorō as one of Kyōden’s failed works. And to be fair, it doesn’t seem to have sold very well, and is a bit underwhelming for a work that is sandwiched chronologically between Kyōden’s greatest hits, Gozonji no shōbaimono and Edo umare uwaki no kabayaki. Nonetheless, I think there’s more going on in Kyakujin jorō than Iwasaki gives it credit for.