As a subgenre of gesaku, humor was a major aspect to each story. "The sharebon described the manners, language, and clothes of the men who frequented the licensed quarters and were adept in their ritualized etiquette." Often these men would attempt to flaunt their knowledge, only to be wrong and ridiculed by the courtesans.
The sharebon genre existed between the 1720s and 1840s, lasting more than a hundred years. This interval is commonly divided into three stages: early, middle and late.
The early period existed between the 1720s and the 1760s.
The earliest text belonging to the genre is identified as Ryōha Shigen (両巴巵言), which was written Gekishō Sensei (撃鉦先生) in 1728. It establishes the traditional form and style of the genre.
A number of important texts were published in the following decades, developing the genre:
- Hijiri no Yūkaku (聖遊廓, "The Holy Man's Brothel") (1757): Buddha, Confucius, and Laozi all go to a brothel in Ōsaka.
- Tatsumi no Sono (辰巳之園) (1770)
- Yūshi Hōgen (遊子方言, "The Rake's Patois") (1770): a man and his son visit Yoshiwara. The man attempts to flaunt his knowledge of the latest fashions and trends, but is wrong and ridiculed by courtesans. The naive son receives better treatment.
Yūshi Hōgen became the basic model for future novels.
The middle period existed between the 1770s and the 1780s.
The genre reached peak popularity. Authors experimented with new locations, characters, and types of humor.
Santō Kyōden, "the leading writer of fiction at the end of the eighteenth century", wrote the "best sharebon". He wrote a number of important novels, including:
- Musukobeya (令子洞房) (1785)
- Tsūgen Sōmagaki (通言総籬, "The Palace") (1787)
- Keiseikai Shijūhatte (傾城買四十八手, "The Forty-Eight Grips in Buying a Whore") (1790)
- Shikake Bunko (仕懸文庫) (1791)
- Nishiki no Ura (錦之裏) (1791)
- Shōgi Kinuburui (娼妓絹籭, "The Courtesan's Silken Sieve") (1791)
In 1790, the Kansei Reforms, led by Matsudaira Sadanobu, introduced strict censorship and penalties for "frivolous books". Both Santō Kyōden and Tsutaya Jūzaburō, the leading publisher of the time, were punished for their work on sharebon.
The late period existed between the 1790s and the 1840s.
Following the Kansei Reforms, the sharebon genre went into decline. There were few new developments, and most new books were imitations of Kyōden's earlier works. Authors such as Umebori Kokuga (梅暮里谷峨) had a little success in continuing the genre. However, it eventually "[...] gave way to the ninjōbon in response to popular demand for sustained stories with greater depth of character [...]"
- Keene (1976: 399)
- Keene (1976: 404)
- Keene (1976: 408)
- Keene (1976: 428)
- Keene, Donald (1976). World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era 1600-1867. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0-394-17074-1.
- Kubota, Jun (2007). Iwanami Nihon Koten Bungaku Jiten (in Japanese). Iwanami Shoten. ISBN 978-4-00-080310-6.
- Nihon Koten Bungaku Daijiten: Kan'yakuban. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten. 1986. ISBN 4-00-080067-1. Missing or empty