Ningyō Sashichi and Hanshichi: Differing Views on Ancient Edo
Paolini, Enrico (2020) Ningyō Sashichi and Hanshichi: Differing Views on Ancient Edo. Tesi di Dottorato, Università degli Studi di Napoli L'Orientale.
Torimonochō have enjoyed immense popularity in Japan since their inception: through highs and lows, these stories have managed to survive for a hundred years with little to no interruption, even during the bleak days of the Pacific War. Even now, when this literary genre has fallen under the radar, and many among the younger generations are unfamiliar with it, it still enjoys a moderate degree of success in its niche market, and it is an important part of the Japanese literary landscape. Despite the depth of the roots torimonochō have in Japan, scholarly attention towards the genre has not been forthcoming: literary criticism in Japanese is not plentiful, and tends to concentrate on a single series, Hanshichi torimonochō, to the near exclusion of others, and the situation is further exacerbated by the extreme scarcity of translations. The present work aims to bridge this gap, however partially, not just by introducing torimonochō to a Western audience, but by presenting some of its lesser-known aspects, and arguing for a re-evaluation of the genre itself. Torimonochō are often presented, and present in the public mind, as an unambiguous unit, something of a monolithic block with little in the way of change: detective stories set in a nostalgia-fuelled Edo period – a ‘golden age’, or the ‘good old times’ – with very rigid, well-defined characteristics more or less impervious to modifications. On a closer look, however, within the compact and apparently strict definition of ‘torimonochō’, one finds a much more fragmentary reality, an amalgamation of different elements which do not even necessarily mesh well with each other. Torimonochō are not a single block, then, but a construction made of many smaller ‘bricks’, quite varied and rarely homogeneous. A hybrid mass without substantial unity, in other words, a commixture the characteristics of which change depending on the author’s vision – and even the reader’s vision. This hybridity manifests itself in three different stages, or layers: (a) the origins of the torimonochō, how they came about and reached their present form; (b) its representational content, how they depict the fantasy world the protagonists inhabit and what this depiction tells us about the real world the authors lived in; and (c) their surrounding context, how the external circumstances around the times of their publication variously affected not just single works, but genre definitions themselves. These three forms of hybridity will be the main subject of the present thesis, the four chapters of which will explore each of these individual sides with the intention of demonstrating that torimonochō is a fundamentally inhomogeneous literary genre. Given the plethora of works, the scope of the paper is limited to the so-called ‘Five Great Torimonochō’: Umon torimonochō, Zenigata Heiji torimono hikae, Wakasama zamurai torimono techō, Hanshichi torimonochō, and Ningyō Sashichi torimonochō, with a special focus on the latter two. The Hanshichi series is of capital importance, not just because it gave birth to the genre itself, but also for its curious ‘heretical’ status among its epigones. The Sashichi series, on the other hand, introduces many variations which set it starkly apart from the traditional concept of torimonochō, endowing it with an importance which has not always been acknowledged by critics.
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