Песни «весёлых кварталов» как литературный феномен эпохи Эдо
Kouta, the songs of the licensed quarters, still remain one of the most poorly explored genres of the Edo period literature. These songs, created by anonymous female authors from luxurious brothels with the assistance of the bohemian literati of the time, were known for many centuries as the treasury of Japanese folklore. The highest level of education and considerable poetic skills typical for many authors became a token of close connection with classical poetry and predestined the role of the genre in the formation of literary canon in Kabuki and Joruri drama.
In the meantime, kouta present a brilliant example of the most successful adaptation and transformation of the whole palette of folklore lyrical songs – from the dancing tunes with rhythmic refrains free of any semantic functions to the long dramatic ballads and descriptions of specific locations in the genre of a poetic guidebook. Professional compilers and editors of the kouta collections deserve great appreciation both for the amount of the preserved songs and for the skillful composition of the books. Impressive achievements of the editors reveal the existence of a folklore studies trend in premodern Japan – a phenomenon that can be compared only to the infatuation with folklore so typical for the age of Romanticism in Europe.
Kouta anthologies compiled in the 17–18th centuries essentially constitute one great poetic monument, a unity in diversity revealing the slightest details of the city life and featuring primarily customs and mores of the licensed quarters. Unlike the most provocative, sometimes even grotesque imagery of the shunga erotic woodblock prints, kouta tell the stories of true love and suffering of the joro sexual slaves from “tea houses”.
Musical and poetic merits of the kouta songs gained them great reputation not only in the professional geisha community, but also among the public at large. Kouta influenced the formation of the Japanese Romanticist shintaishi poetry in the late 19th century and made a strong impact on enka, the most successful folk song genre of the 20th century.