Genroku, the era name for the years 1688-1704, is commonly used to refer to the entire rule of the fifth Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, from 1680-1709. It is sometimes used even more broadly to include the flowering of culture, especially among the townsmen, from the middle of the 17th to the middle of the 18th centuries. During this period, there was an increase in literacy in the cities, agricultural productivity increased, and urban areas grew. As unprecedented affluence came to a larger number of merchants and artisans in the cities, their demand for goods and services stimulated the development of new styles of clothing, entertainment, and arts tailored to their tastes. Unlike the samurai, who were disciplined by an obligation to perform military and administrative service, urban commoners were free to devote themselves to making and spending money. While Nō was considered the form of drama appropriate to the samurai, kabuki and puppet theater, which developed from the early 17th century, were shaped increasingly by townspeople, and the Genroku era is celebrated as the golden age of both types of theater. A major development in poetry was the evolution of Matsuo Bashō's style of haikai no renga (comic linked verse) and haiku (17 syllable poem) composition. The era is also characterized by a flowering of scholarship among the samurai, especially in the study of Confucianism. The image popularly invoked by the name of Genroku is a time a prosperity, extravagance, and indulgence, with only the vendetta of the Forty-Seven Ronin Incident to remind people of honor, loyalty, and sacrifice. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)
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