近松 門左衛門

Chikamatsu, the "Shakespeare of Japan," is one of the three great literary figures of the Edo era in Japanese history, along with Matsuo Basho and Ihara Saikaku. He was born Sugimori Nobumori in Echizen in 1653, and moved to Kyoto in his youth along with his ronin father, studying at Gonshoji Temple starting at the age of 20.

In 1685, shortly after producing his first play, he met Osaka playwright Takemoto Gidayu for the first time. Twenty years later, in 1705, he moved to Osaka to become a staff playwright at Takemoto's theater in Naniwa, which was quickly becoming the center of the theatrical arts in Japan.

Like Shakespeare, Chikamatsu's stories were primarily romances and historical epics. Also like Shakespeare, Chikamatsu was incredibly prolific, producing around 100 plays in his lifetime, often writing each one over the space of a few weeks: yet the quality of the writing in each play makes it difficult to believe the speed at which he worked.

Most of Chikamatsu's plays were written for bunraku, an incredibly intricate and artistic form of puppet theater. With the decline of bunraku in the 1800's, some of his works were adapted for the kabuki theater. It is still possible, and definitely worth the trip, to see Chikamatsu's plays at the National Bunraku Theater of Japan, in Nippombashi, Osaka. Eleven of Chikamatsu's dramas have been published in English by translator Donald Keene.

Chikamatsu's most famous plays include:

Chikamatsu died in 1724, and his tomb, which originally lay on the grounds of Myohoji Temple in Osaka, is now sandwiched in between an office building and a gas station 400 meters south of Tanimachi 6-Chome station on the Osaka City Subway. (If that doesn't say a lot about Japan, I don't know what does.)

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