Kyokutei Bakin (曲亭馬琴, 4 July 1767 – 1 December 1848) was a late Japanese Edo period gesaku author best known for works such as Nansō Satomi Hakkenden (The Chronicles of the Eight Dog Heroes of the Satomi Clan of Nansô) and Chinsetsu Yumiharizuki (Strange Tales of the Crescent Moon). Both are outstanding examples of nineteenth-century yomihon, or "books for reading" (as opposed to picture books and books for recitation).
Born as Takizawa Okikuni (滝沢興邦), he wrote under the pen name Kyokutei Bakin (曲亭馬琴), which is a pun, as the kanji may also be read as kuruwa de makoto, meaning a man who is truly devoted to the courtesans of the pleasure districts. Later in life he took the pen name Toku (解). Modern scholarship generally refers to him as Kyokutei Bakin, or just as Bakin.
Born in Edo (present day Tokyo) on 4 July 1767, Bakin was the fifth son of Omon and Okiyoshi. His father, Okiyoshi, was a samurai in the service of one of the Shogun's retainers, Matsudaira Nobunari. Two of his older brothers died in infancy, while the other two, Rabun (1759–1798) and Keichū (1765–1786), played pivotal roles in Bakin's life. He had two younger sisters, Ohisa, born in 1771, and Okiku, born in 1774.
In his diaries, Bakin wrote that his father, a heavy drinker, was devoted to scholarship and the classics, and diligent in his work as a samurai. He died in 1775, when Bakin was only nine years old, having aggravated his gout through drinking. Bakin's family stipend was soon reduced by half, and in December of the following year, Rabun gave up his service to the Matsudaira clan in favor of living as a rōnin. Bakin and his family were forced into a much smaller dwelling as a result.
Eventually Rabun received a new post, and in 1778 Bakin's mother pretended to be sick in order to move in with him. Bakin had been placed in service of the Matsudaira lord's grandson, but was treated cruelly and ran away when only 14. He left the following haiku as a note explaining his reasons for leaving:
- Chilled by winter winds
- I have decided
- To journey with the gods.
"The Eight Dog Chronicles" took 28 years to complete (1814–1842), and Bakin grew blind and lost his wife and son before he completed it. Comprising 106 volumes, it is one of the world's longest novels. The final parts of the work were dictated to his daughter-in-law. Although he was born of lower samurai birth, Bakin renounced his status to become a writer. His works center on samurai themes, including loyalty and family honor, as well as Confucianism, bushido and Buddhist philosophy. Excerpts translated by Chris Drake are included in Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900, edited by Haruo Shirane (Columbia University Press, 2002). The Eight Dog Chronicles has been adapted many times, and is best known in the West as the anime OVA The Hakkenden.
His Chinsetsu Yumiharizuki (Strange Tales of the Crescent Moon, 1807–1811) was adapted for the Kabuki stage by Mishima Yukio.
A wonderful series of ukiyo-e containing 50 pictures depicting characters from Nanso Satomi Hakkenden and featuring leading kabuki actors was created by Utagawa Kunisada II. These prints were published in the early 1850s by Tsutaya Kichizo.
Media related to Kyokutei Bakin at Wikimedia Commons
- Catalogue: Chiba Museum, Hakkenden no sekai (2008).