First published in 1686, this collection of five novellas was an immediate bestseller in the bawdy world that was Genroku Japan, and the book's popularity has increased with age, making it today a literary classic like Boccaccio's Decameron, or the works of Rabelais.
The book follows five determined women in their always amorous, erotic and usually illicit adventures. The five heroines are Onatsu, already wise in the ways of love the tender age of sixteen; Osen, a faithful wife until unjustly accused of adultery; Osan, a Kyoto beauty who falls asleep in the wrong bed; Oshichi, willing to burn down a city to meet her samurai lover; and Oman, who has to compete with handsome boys to win her lover's affections.
But the book is more than a collection of skillfully told erotic tales, for "Saikaku ... could not delve into the inmost secrets of human life only to expose them to ridicule or snickering prurience. Obviously fascinated by the variety and complexity of human love, but always retaining a sense of its intrinsic dignity ... he is both a discriminating and compassionate judge of his fellow man."
Saikaku's style, as allusive as it is witty, as abbreviated as it is penetrating, is a challenge that few translators have dared to face, and certainly never before with the success here achieved in a translation that recaptures the heady flavor of the original.