This is the first of a three-volume anthology of Edo- and Meiji-era urban literature that includes An Edo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Mega-City, 1750–1850 and A Tokyo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Modern Metropolis, 1850–1920. The present work focuses on the years in which bourgeois culture first emerged in Japan, telling the story of the rising commoner arts of Kamigata, or the “Upper Regions” of Kyoto and Osaka, which harkened back to Japan’s middle ages even as they rebelled against and competed with that earlier era. Both cities prided themselves on being models and trendsetters in all cultural matters, whether arts, crafts, books, or food. The volume also shows how elements of popular arts that germinated during this period ripened into the full-blown consumer culture of the late-Edo period.
The tendency to imagine Japan’s modernity as a creation of Western influence since the mid-nineteenth century is still strong, particularly outside Japan studies. A Kamigata Anthology challenges such assumptions by illustrating the flourishing phenomenon of Japan’s movement into its own modernity through a selection of the best examples from the period, including popular genres such as haikai poetry, handmade picture scrolls, travel guidebooks, kabuki and joruri plays, prose narratives of contemporary life, and jokes told by professional entertainers. Well illustrated with prints from popular books of the time and hand scrolls and standing screens containing poems and commentaries, the entertaining and vibrant translations put a spotlight on texts currently unavailable in English.