Nichibunken Evening Seminar

The 257th Nichibunken Evening Seminar


Sex on the Brain: Reappraising Jippensha Ikku’s Literary Style in the Context of Chronic Neurosyphilis


▶ view PDF

Over the course of his sixty-six-year life, Jippensha Ikku (1765–1831) penned over five hundred texts across a wide variety of prose, poetic, and dramatic genres. Most famous is his Hizakurige (Shank’s Mare) series, the first eight installments of which were published annually between 1802 and 1809 in Edo. Immensely popular though they were, there is a common thread in critiques on Hizakurige: that as the series went on, it become more repetitive and less original. But why was this? I argue that Ikku did not simply run out of ideas for the antics of his buffoonish protagonists Yaji and Kita, but was forced to innovate the ways he went about researching and writing Hizakurige because of a serious health condition. Using biographical evidence taken from the prefatory matter of his texts, I piece together the timeline of his illness, suggesting that he likely suffered from chronic neuro-syphilis. The ravages of the disease effectively rendered Ikku disabled, and forced him to rely not on first-hand experiences of his travels around Japan as he had done in the early parts of the Hizakurige sequence, but on a variety of travelogues—most notably various Meisho zue (Illustrated Guidebooks) by Akisato Ritō. Although later Hizakurige volumes may lack some of the verve and vigor of his earlier works, Ikku demonstrated a remarkable ability adapt his written style to overcome the limitations imposed by his illness.

Oliver WHITE
Specially Appointed Assistant Professor, International Research Center for Japanese Studies
Matthew SHORES
Senior Lecturer, The University of Sydney
SAKA Chihiro
Project Research Fellow, International Research Center for Japanese Studies


Date: 2024.06.06 (Thu) 
Seminar Room 1, International Research Center for Japanese Studies and ONLINE (Zoom)
Start time:
End time:
Target audience:
Open to researchers, including students
ONLINE Participation:
Application required. Please apply using this form by NOON on June 4.
The URL for the Zoom meeting will be provided by the day before this seminar.
ONSITE Participation:
First come, first served.
Contact details for inquiries:
Public Relations Unit, General Affairs Section,
International Research Center for Japanese Studies
Email seminar* (Please replace * with @.)
In the future, we may use the personal information you provide to inform you about related events and research activities held by the National Institutes for the Humanities. Thank you for your kind understanding.
Page Top