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A multi-faceted look at the life and milieu of a mid-eighteenth-century aesthete


Takebe Ayatari (1719–74), a contemporary of Yosa Buson and Ike no Taiga, was born into a powerful military household, but rejected his martial background and devoted his prodigious talents to the arts. By his death on the road at the age of 56, Ayatari had succeeded in pioneering fresh approaches to a variety of aesthetic activities, including haikai and waka poetry, prose fiction, travel literature, and especially painting. Not content with his writings and ink drawings, Ayatari made special efforts to publish his and his disciples’ works, thereby single-handedly breaking new ground in the woodblock publishing industry.While Ayatari’s life provides fascinating reading in its own right, this study goes on to provide a detailed background to the cultural and intellectual world of the bohemian in eighteenth-century Japan. The author draws upon a wealth of details to bring the reader a rich view of life for the individualist thriving in a conformist-oriented society. The large number of illustrations of Ayatari’s beautiful landscape and bird-and-flower paintings and woodblock painting manuals, many of which are shown for the first time anywhere, enhances the visual quality of the book for the generalist and specialist alike.

Lawrence E. Marceau is Professor of Japanese, University of Delaware. His research interests include narrative, verse, and literary and cultural thought in 17th- to 19th-century Japan.