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Tales of Old Japan: Folklore, Fairy Tales, Ghost Stories and Legends of the Samurai Paperback – 29 Apr 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications Inc. (29 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486440621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486440620
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.6 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 435,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. M. M. Spencer on 2 Dec. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a well presented book with nice illustrations. Bought as a gift for someone else so cannot comment on content.
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Amazon.com: 14 reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Fairy tales and the soul of a country 2 Jun. 2009
By Zack Davisson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Tales of Old Japan" is a book with an interesting pedigree. From 1866-1870, Author A. B. Mitford was an attaché with the British Legion at Edo (Modern day Tokyo), and one of the first foreign diplomats to Japan. He served as a translator for the young Meiji Emperor, and became intimately familiar with the country and its language.

Upon his return to Britain, he became discouraged and disappointed by Western media reports of the Japanese people, portraying them as an uncouth people lacking in morals or character, with vicious men and wanton women. Mitford set out to correct that error by writing "Tales of Old Japan," showing through Japanese legends and fairly tales the moral heart of the country, what they admired, what they aspired to, and what they feared.

Because of this, "Tales of Old Japan" is much more than a collection of stories. Published in 1871, it is the first English-language book of its kind, and many famous Japanese tales, such as "Okiku and the Nine Plates," and "The Forty-Seven Ronin," appear here for the first time. Each tale was selected not only for its own interest, but to teach Western audiences about the soul of the Japanese people through their native fairy tales. After each story, Mitford writes about how the story is seen in Japan, what people admired about the heroes and despise about the villains.

These insights are what separate "Tales of Old Japan" from other books of this style. It is less academic than Myths and Legends of Japan and yet more than a collection of fairy tales like the massive Japanese Tales. Similar legends are collected in all three books, although they are presented differently. Mitford's book is very readable, but uses translations common of the era, such as "Prince" and "dirk" to represent Japanese concepts like the Daimyo and the samurai's shortsword wakizashi. Some of his language might be considered sexist or racist by modern standards, but that is something that must be forgiven for a book over a hundred and thirty years old. Mitford admired the Japanese, and shows so at every turn.

"Tales of Old Japan" covers legends of loyalty ("The Forty Seven Ronin"), love ("The Loves of Gompachi and Komurasaki") the importance of the sword ("A Story of the Otokodate of Yedo"), the feudal system ("The Eta Maiden and the Hatamoto"), vengeance ("The Ghost of Sakura") as well as a large collection of fairy tales and superstitions, like "The Tongue-cut Sparrow," "The Battle of the Ape and the Crab" and "The Prince and the Badger."

Many of these will already be familiar to those who have read some Japanese folklore, but it is fascinating to read Mitford's commentary and the first English translation and interpretation. Mitford also commissioned a Japanese woodblock artist, Odake, to create images to go along with the stories. These beautiful prints are included in the Dover publication of "Tales of Old Japan," reproduced in black and white.

Also included are indexes describing in detail four important aspects of Japanese life, "The Marriage Ceremony," "One the Birth and Raising of Children" and "Funeral Rights." All of these are windows to the past, first hand accounts of what happened then. Another index talks of the ceremony of seppuku, known more commonly in English as hara-kiri. Mitford translates the laws and customs of hara-kiri, including how it varies for persons of rank, the difference between execution for an illegal but honorable killing as opposed to a passion slaying, and what to do with the head and body afterwards. Those who only know movie-style versions of the act will be surprised by the real thing, as I was.

Mitford also transcribes his own eye-witness account of a hara-kiri execution, one of seven foreigners invited to attend. While Mitford tries to stay a dispassionate observer, he is eventually forced to break from his professional voice in order to write "It was horrible."
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Fantastic 19 May 2011
By chunyukuo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Tales of Japan" is fascinating for much more than what it reveals about Japanese culture. For one thing, there aren't many Japanese histories for sale on Amazon that were written around 1871.

This book is a collection of folk stories which are accompanied by explanations of cultural and historical context. It focuses more on historical figures such as the Iyeyasu family, the Hatamoto and legendary heroes. There is little mention of mythological creatures, and I was surprised to find nothing at all concerning tanuki or the Onamazu, the giant catfish that lives under Japan and causes earthquakes with its tail.

Most amusing was author A.B. Mittford's quaint Victorian diction and editorial discretion when translating Japanese concepts. His book includes three Japanese "sermons" from Buddhism, and refers to a Buddhist priest as "reverend." Characters drink "wine," not saké.

In fact, I loved this book precisely because the author resists the inane tendency that second-rate Japan writers indulge in today, which is to use Romanized Japanese words gratuitously. Unless you're a tea master, a teacup is just a teacup.

"Tales of Japan" is a must-have for Japan fans.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Gods, Ghosts and Goemon 26 Oct. 2010
By Jacob King - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Mitford's book is a very comprehensive introduction to the mythology and culture of pre-Western engagement Japan. I was actually suprised by the level of detail and the sheer breadth of the work. Despite being written in the 19th century it is still easy to read and is suitable for a general audience. That said, it is a product of its time and culture and is best read as such.

I found myself being more interested in Mitford's descriptions of life in the European conclave and in his quite graphic and self aware account of the impact the Europeans were having on traditional Japanese life. Tales of Old Japan is a fascinating historical artifact - one lost culture refracted through another. Oh, and the stories were good too.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A must if interested in Japanese History 8 May 2012
By Francesco Carbonari - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I highly recommend this book to anybody that wants to learn about Japanese history. The book includes the story of the 47 ronin, a must for students of Japanese Culture and martial artist, and stories, folktales and sermons prior to the 20th century.
10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Good book, lousy delivery service provided by Amazon 5 Nov. 2009
By Derek Rivard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is an excellent collections of stories and folk-lore from pre-modern Japan, and an excellent resource for those such as myself looking for an addition to a library to assist in building readings for a college-level course on Japanese culture and history. It has a wide diversity of sources and stories, and is generally well-edited and clearly presented. I would recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the land of the samurai, kabuki and no drama, the tea ceremony, shinto, and Soto and Rinzai Zen buddhist practice.

My only complaint, and it is not concerning the book itself or the author's respectable work, is this is yet another in a long line of books I have receieved since becoming an Amazon Prime member that, despite paying extra for the membership privileges, arrived in a damaged condition which is clearly the result of shoddy standards or training for Amazon packagers, and insufficient use of protective packaging. The cover had clearly been bent in several places and used to pick up the book, leaving significant enough creases that it does not sit flat when laid on a flat surface. When I paid shipping costs for any package less than $25.00, Amazon was excellent in guaranteeing the condition new books would arrive in would, in fact, be new. Now they have even made it difficult to directly contact them regarding a damaged book, insisting you return the work and they receive it before they even will consider simply sending you a replacement, let alone a refund. I've complained to Customer Service a number of times about this, but this has not solved the problems, which seem systemic and symptomatic of the bottom-line mentality of the company. Books like "Tales of Old Japan," with its particularly attractive cover, deserve better treatment than what Amazon provides.
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