Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Book Review of The Barrelmaker Brimful of Love by Saikaku Ihara

Name of Book: The Barrelmaker Brimful of Love

Author: Saikaku Ihara

ISBN: 0-393-97758-7

Publisher: Norton Company

Type of book: 1600s, Japan, love, floating world, realism, marriage

Year it was published: 1686?

(from Norton World Anthology Vol.D 590)

The Barrelmaker Brimful of Love is a worthy introduction. The novella is part of a collection of stories, Five Women Who loved Love, written in 1686 when Saikaku had reached his full stride. It should be remembered, though, that this is a writer for whom language is always a bravura performance. Translation, inevitably obscuring linguistic aspects of a text, cannot display the stylist's forte to best advantage. Saikaku's many other strengths, however, do emerge.


Although the story itself is interesting, there isn't much depth with the characters; Osen is a sweet and naive girl, the man who likes her is persistent, the grandmother who sets them up is manipulative and so forth. There is also generosity involved, and its interesting to notice that unlike Genji, there seems to be a somewhat monogamy for the characters.


Happiness doesn't last long.


I think this is primarily written from the girl's, Osen's, point of view. From what I could understand, Osen and the man meet, she rebuffs him a number of times, the man turns to "nanny" for help and she scares Osen into being with him. They, along with other couples? travel somewhere and so forth. The story itself is short, perhaps ten or eleven pages long.

Author Information:
(from wikipedia.org)

Ihara Saikaku (井原 西鶴?, 1642 – September 9, 1693) was a Japanese poet and creator of the "floating world" genre of Japanese prose (ukiyo-zōshi)


Just like The Tale of Genji, this also had a strange timelessness to it, but I found the parts where two men are with Osen confusing and couldn't help but wonder if there was some kind of umm threesome involved or something of the kind. Overall an interesting story although due to culture or whatnot, I'm afraid that it didn't have much of an impact on me. Most interesting line is beginning: "Life short, love is long" (Vol. D 591)

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)


  1. Nanny does not necessarily scare Osen into being with the cooper, she falls in love with him even though she does not even know him because of his passionate love for her (as Nanny dramatically puts it). Her parents are also impressed with his passion and agree to their marriage. They are very happy together and the girl proves to be a devoted, caring wife. One day, however, she is invited to help with the preparations for a neighbour's party. The neighbour is called Chozaemon, he is pretty old, and he is holding an anniversary of some-ten years since his father's death. While Osen is in the kitchen, Chozaemon enters and reaches for a bowl from a higher shelf, but the bowl falls on top of Osen's head, ruining her hairdo. Being sweet and hard-working, she says it's okay, quickly and messily does her hair back up and continues to work in the kitchen. When she exits the kitchen however, Chozaemon's wife notices her hair, and knowing her husband Chozaemon had been in the kitchen too, accuses Osen of having sex with him! Osen is unable to convince the woman of her innocence. Chozaemon's wife throws fish slices on her in front of the other guests. Humiliated, Osen returns home and angrily decides to sleep with Chozaemon, even though she loves her husband the cooper. (really. perhaps as revenge.) She calls Chozaemon to her room in the night, but when the old man does come, the cooper hears them catches them in the act. Osen then takes her own life, out of shame and knowing that the penalty for adultery would be death anyway.

    (Mark D. West:)

    Japanese law contained harsh criminal provisions for adultery beginning at
    least in the eighth century, but the law was not uniform until the promulgation
    of the Osadamegaki in 1742, the fi rst nationwide (at least in shogunatecontrolled
    territories), authoritative codifi cation of criminal law precedents.
    Section 48 of the Osadamegaki contains some twenty- six detailed provisions
    on adultery. Among them are these:
    If a woman commits adultery, she should be put to death.
    If a man commits adultery (sex with a married woman), he should be put to
    A husband who kills his wife and her lover out of anger should receive no
    If a man kills the adulterer, but leaves his wife alive, the wife should be sentenced
    to death. But if the adulterer escapes and is not killed, then the wife’s
    punishment is left to her husband’s discretion.
    If the husband kills an intruder who crept into the house intending to commit
    adultery with the man’s wife, and there is proof that this was his intention,
    neither the husband nor the wife should be punished.
    A woman who commits adultery and then kills her husband should be crucifi
    ed. If her lover encouraged her to do so or assisted her in the murder, he
    should be decapitated, and his severed head should be displayed publicly.

    If a woman commits adultery and then wounds her husband, she should be
    put on public display and then decapitated, and her severed head should be
    displayed publicly"

    Sorry for the hasty typing, but I hope I could be of a little help :D

  2. It started like a classic boy meets girl love story, but by the end I had completely changed my mind about it. I hope they don't keep teaching this in class. It was very hard to present this in an optimistic tone and I bet the Professor was relieved.


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