Life of A Sensuous Woman – Ihara Saikaku

By Catharina Berg

In a Life of a Sensuous Woman, by Ihara Saikaku, the author prefaces the first story in the novel with the statement, “A beautiful woman, many ages have agreed, is an ax that cuts down a man’s life” (Saikaku, 593). The author portrays the life route of an old lady and her romantic involvements, beginning as a young, physically attractive woman, and the obstacles found during her attempt to find love during her aging years. The emphasis in the work is strongly set on the aesthetic definition of women, which is portrayed as the essential element in order to satisfy a woman’s desire for love, vitality and eroticism.

One can draw a strong connection between the story-lines “A Stylish Woman Who Brought Disaster” and “Mistress of a Domain Lord”, as the woman is portrayed as a second priority, and a woman to fulfill her husband’s desires for sexual temptation rather than the desire of love. The novel overall emphasizes the conceptual idea of objectification of women, due to advantages of physical attributions, as well as gender roles and men’s dominating position within the society; the men who are higher ranked in form of well-respected positions in society are desired by attractive women, and vice verse. Even though the woman in the story was not grown up in poverty, her family situation was rather from the society’s middle class, the author places an idealistic standard of women, using physical advantages in order to satisfy the desire of a pleasing relationship based on the sake of prosperity rather than love.

The reflection of the novel’s essential context of sexism, power, and wealth could strongly be acknowledged in our contemporary society, in which we live in a world where beautiful women are commonly portrayed as objective prosperity, while the women themselves receive a route to wealth. Life of a Sensuous Woman demonstrates the role of women within the Japanese Edo time period, where the meaning of love is rather defined as contemporary happiness, based on an exchange of beauty and fortune.