Literature in Translation 373
May 17, 2014
The Japanese literary genre known as the kibyōshi was considered to be mostly a comic book for children. However, after reading some Kibyoshi in depth, one realizes the Kibyoshi can be filled with deeper significance than just the surface meaning. Kibyoshi are filled with content that require a certain level of sophistication and general knowledge that may be above the average level of children. The Kibyoshi became a medium for sociopolitical satire, Edo-centrism and commodification, which are apparent in subtle hints within the visual-verbal narrative. Similarly, many Kibyoshi often incorporate different types of Shuko, such as naimaze, fukiyose and mitate, focusing on common folktales, current events or previous works in Kibyoshi or Kabuki Theater. While a child at the time may understand the general plot and story, it is with additional knowledge of the social and political sphere that one can truly tease out more meaning from the Kibyoshi.
The target audience of the Kibyoshi was most likely adults of the general public rather than children. During the Tokugawa Period, between 1608 and 1867, the social hierarchy of Japan was very stratified, starting with the emperor, then the shogun with his samurai, and finally the common people. The common people were further stratified into different social orders, with farmers being the most respected, then artisans and merchants being of the lowest class (Bellah, 24).
One important facet of life that touched every person in Japan at the time was the influence of religion, which became a mandatory practice with the beginning of Tokugawa rule (Bellah, 51). Even the underlying structure of the social hierarchy of the Tokugawa Period was essentially based on Neo-Confucian ideals. At the time, there were three main religions and philosophical ideals that were popular among all classes: Shinto, Japan’s native religion, Buddhism and its various sects and finally Confucianism from China, which spawned Neo-Confucianism (Bellah, 55). A brief introduction to the three aforementioned ideals and the teachings of Shingaku, which combined all three into one practice, will help in understanding the Kibyoshi in a new light, revealing various instances of religious satire and allusions. By Interpreting the Kibyoshi through the lens of the religious climate at the time, an additional dimension of sophistication is illuminated for the reader.
As mentioned earlier, Shinto is the native religion of Japan and explains the origins of Japan and the Japanese people. A main concept of Shinto is the importance of Kami, which can mean spirit or deity (Hartz, 8). It is strongly believed that many natural phenomena and natural creations may house a Kami, which strongly led to the practice of respecting nature (Hartz, 9). Although there is no formal scripture or religious text, many of the stories of Shinto...