Question and Answer
The Politics of Culture and the Art of Dissent in Early Modern Japan Who was Baba Bunko?
The 18th-century writer Baba Bunko^ (馬場文耕, d. 1718-58) was one of the few writers put to death for his writings critical of the regime. Bunko told fortunes and gave readings of military tales on the grounds of Asakusa Temple. Gradually, the focus of his readings and lectures changed from war tales and human interest stories to reports of the latest rumors that he had heard about public officials and about some of the more prominent samurai who were living in Edo at the time. Bunko, some said he was a laicised monk, others a disaffected shogunal administrator. All confirmed that he was an excellent raconteur and from the mid 1750s, 200 listeners would come to Edo. Bunko was dangerously exposed. at the age of 41, he was executed by the shogunate for lese-majesty (the only literature every to be so). Bunko� began delivering stronger and stronger denunciations against the corruption of some of the most highly placed samurai officials and even made fun of the ruling shogun, Tokugawa Ieshige, by name. Bunko� seemed to go out of his way to expose and humiliate specific public officials. To add insult to injury, Bunko� wrote stories that praised the virtues of the courtesans of the Yoshiwara prostitute district and contrasted "their virtue" with "the immorality of the samurai," who were often government officials. Bunko� was able to get away with this, for a while at least, by taking advantage of the protection offered by staying on the grounds of Asakusa temple, where the Edo city magistrate had no jurisdiction. , Bunko� expressed his views orally, rather than in writing, perhaps thinking that he could remain relatively safe from arrest and would not easily be subjected to government censorship. Both Gennai and Bunko� intended their readers to see clearly and objectively the hypocrisy about which they wrote. Gennai�s satire has a major defect...
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