Gerald Groemer

The Development of the Fragmentary Prose Genre (Zuihitsu) during the Edo Period, 1600–1868

  • Time: 2. Okt. 2017, 11:00-13:00
  • Venue: Institut für Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens, 2. Stock Seminarraum (Raum 2.25)
  • Organisation: Bernhard Scheid


The Japanese zuihitsu was a genre of freely conceived prose consisting of loosely assembled fragments of information, observations, memories, insights, and criticism. More than 5000 zuihitsu were penned between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and thus this genre represents the most common and perhaps the most important form of premodern Japanese non-fiction writing. The origins of the zuihitsu may be traced to classics such as the “Pillow Book” of Sei Shōnagon and the “Essays in Idleness” of Kenkō, as well as to similar genres of Chinese writing. During the Edo period zuihitsu writers developed such models to create a form of writing that implied an empiricist critique of the far more systematic and dogmatic Confucian and Buddhist discourses of the day. After the Meiji era, however, as more methodical scientific, historical, and social-scientific discourses became evermore authoritative, the zuihitsu underwent considerable transformation. This lecture will consider the social context and historical forces that led to the rise and development of the zuihitsu from the seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries.


Gerald Groemer is professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Yamanashi in Kōfu, Japan. He received his PhD from Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music, the first non-Japanese ever to do so. His primary interest is in the popular performing arts of Edo-period Japan (1600–1868), especially the music and social situation of itinerant performers. He has published widely on this topic including books such as Goze to goze-uta no kenkyū (2 vols., Nagoya Daigaku, 2007), which treats blind itinerant women (goze) and their songs; The Spirit of Tsugaru (Tsugaru Shobō, 2012), a study of the instrumental folk-music genre of Tsugaru-jamisen; Street Performer and Society in Urban Japan, 1600–1990, concerning musical and theatrical street performance in Edo (Routledge, 2016); and Goze (Oxford University Press, 2016), an English-language study of visually disabled women and musical performance. The Land We Saw, the Times We Knew, an anthology of translated and annotated Edo-period zuihitsu, will appear in early 2018 (University of Hawaii Press).