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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating insight into Japanese folk imagination1!,
By A Customer
This review is from: Japanese Tales (Pantheon Fairy Tales & Fantasies) (Paperback)Superbly compiled and translated by Japanese scholar Royall Tyler, this eloquent anthology presents a great deal of diversity as far as materials are concerned. Ranging from exploits of shinto dieties, mythological monsters and animals, playful to erotic tales about samurai, courtesans and ladies, Particularly interesting are the religiously-oriented tales involving various Boddhisattvas and dieties, most notably Kwannon (the buddhist diety of compassion) This book is an inexpensive, accessible and entertaining source to anyone interested in Japanese traditional society.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Such An Enchanting Book!,
This review is from: Japanese Tales (Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library) (Paperback)By using his extensive knowledge in the Japanese literature, Royall Tyler collected and translated Japanese stories into English and into one volume entitled "Japanese Tales." This book drives the readers to experience the enchanting Japanese folklore and ancient short stories of spirits, demons, monsters, gods, monks, heroes, snakes, robbers, foxes, love, and families. There are 220 tales in this book, which are grouped into sets of four to six tales with each having its own theme or heading. In addition to the sets of the book, there is an introduction which describes the history of Japanese lore and mythology; and the culture of Japan including the capital, provinces, the emperor, ministers, houses, the manners of the Japanese people, and the religion during the period of 9th to 13th centuries. Throughout the selected sets of "Japanese Tales," one can understand the Japanese culture from 9th to 13th centuries by looking at the influences of Buddha and Lotus Sutra, the interferences of gods and goddesses, and the stories of snakes and foxes.
"Japanese Tales" explores the influences of Buddha and Lotus Sutra in the medieval Japanese culture as seen in the sets of 'Monk Jokes,' 'Beyond the Rules,' and 'Parent and Child.' Since the religion of Buddhism officially came to Japan in the mid-sixth century, large temples were built and respected monks were scattered across Japan in which people viewed them as saints, frivolous, worldly, and rich (p. xxxvi - xxxvii). However, the tales in the set of 'Monk Jokes' demonstrated as a way of insult to the Buddhist monks because of their sexual behavior, and this set has a twist and humorous end. But the religion of Buddha also had great positive influences on the Japanese people as their view of life and death. The best example of this is a tale of 'The Stinking Hut' in a set of 'Beyond the Rules.'
The important part of the Buddha religion is its scriptures called the sutras, and Lotus Sutra was the only important sutra in Japan which was a "basic of great many monks" and its powerful spiritual merit was copying the text (p. xxxvii, xliv - xlv). The mention of Lotus Sutra appeared throughout the selected sets as a chant or a benefit for someone in need. A good example of the Lotus Sutra can be seen in a tale of 'Hell in Broad Day' in a set of 'Parent and Child.' The religion of Buddha and the Lotus Sutra made strong impacts upon the rich culture of Japan, as evidenced in the living folklore and tales.
The interferences of gods and goddesses in the tales appeared to be of a great importance for the Japanese people because of hope, prayers being answered, and their roles in the vast universe. The religion of Buddhism has many gods and goddesses which appear or are mentioned in the Japanese Tales as part of the Japanese culture. In a sense, the tales would teach the new Japanese generations about the roles of the gods and goddesses and the lessons from their seen or unseen actions. Like a shocking story of 'Buckets of Marital Bliss,' tales that involved gods or goddesses would seem to have important lessons for the readers or listeners during the period of 9th to 13th centuries. The lessons that were demonstrated to the mortal people in the stories would have included the morals, relationships, virtues, and characters. The interferences of gods and goddesses in the "Japanese Tales" played an important role in a traditional society which formed a moral root of the Japanese culture.
The stories of the "Japanese Tales" consisted of many symbols and hidden meanings as related to the conditions of human beings. There are two major creatures of human conditions that appeared in many of the tales, and these were the snakes and the foxes. The snakes in the tales can "embody sinful" conditions including lust, forbidden desires, and evil while the foxes were tricksters for their own sexual desire, love, family, and they were also messengers of gods (p. xlvix - li.). Like in other foreign stories such as the Genesis story in the Bible, the snakes in the "Japanese Tales" represented evil and the actions of the dark side of all human beings, such as lust and forbidden desires. Foxes, on the other hand, do not represent evil, but they represent something between good and evil. Since they were not viewed as good creatures, the foxes can be tricky in such a way that they can be manipulative in love and family. The fox would change its appearance into a woman to get attention from a man, to feel appreciated and loved. Sometimes, a fox can be a messenger of a god appearing in dreams. These 'messenger' foxes would sometime play a divinity role for Japanese people as they would become important creatures of Japan, while the "manipulative" foxes can be the most annoying yet tricky creatures. While they appeared often in the tales, the snakes and the foxes were important figures for the readers or the listeners as they are the representations of major human conditions in Japan.
In Tyler's "Japanese Tales," one can understand the Japanese culture from 9th to 13th centuries by looking at the influences of Buddha and Lotus Sutra, the interferences of gods and goddesses, and the stories of snakes and foxes from the selected sets. The rich culture of Japan was formed by the impact of the religion of Buddha and the Lotus Sutra which affected Japanese folklore and tales.
A well-written book of tales with an accessible source of traditional Japanese society, Royall Tyler's "Japanese Tales" gave a fascinating picture of the Japanese culture and its people during the period of 9th to 13th centuries. For those who love folklores and legends, this book is most recommended.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First-class anthology of old Japanese tales by a master translator and scholar,
This review is from: Japanese Tales (Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library) (Paperback)Royall Tyler is one of the premiere translators of Japanese into English. His book of Japanese No dramas (1992) and his translation of Genji (2003) are ground-breaking works, deftly blending great scholarship and learning with lucid yet faithful translations. His book of No plays opened my eyes to the beauty of Japanese art, literature and culture seven years ago, and though I find Seidensticker's 1970s translation of Genji more readable, I can still recognise Tyler's translation for it's very great merits.
This anthology collects together a wide range of Japanese tales from a period roughly spanning from about the C8 to the C16. You will find many of the tales in this collection scattered about in different versions in other collections, for example in Mitford's Tales of Old Japan from the end of the C18, and collections of Akutagawa's (English translations available) work. However, the versions in this book are the most faithful versions you will find in English. Sometimes the more freely translated versions (Mitford) or the more freely re-told versions (Akutagawa) have more literary merit, but the versions in this book are the real thing. On the whole, the stories are often not as evocative or as beautiful as their freer counterparts, or of other similar tales based on old Japanese tales (the most evocative and beautiful probably being Lafcadio Hearn's stories, published at the beginning of the C19, though he never mastered Japanese and his tales are dubious in their faithfulness to their varying sources). Tyler's introduction is, as you would expect, scholarly and illuminating, and is worth reading in its own right.
The stories in this book demonstrate the enormous range of Japanese literature from the period. There are some genuinely scary ones about ghosts and demons. The Lotus Sutra, the all-pervading text in Japanese Buddhism, crops up again and again. There are lots of animal tales too - foxes (kitsune), badgers (tanuki), snakes (hebi).
Most memorable, though, are the tale of desire and carnal activity. In one story a monk falls asleep and has a dream that a beautiful girl comes along and performs felatio on him. He wakes up with his trousers undone and a dead snake in front of him with its mouth open and a white liquid dribbling out!
In another story a monk fondles the body of a very beautiful stature of Kannon every day when none of the other monks are looking. One night he has a dream that the statue comes to him as a real woman. She is even more beautiful than she is as a statue. She tells him to meet her. He wakes up and meets her at the appointed place and time and she is there, waiting. He throws temple life in and becomes a farmer, marrying her, and becomes quite prosperous. She tells him that he can never be unfaithful to her. He assures her he won't. One day, however, on a business trip, he sleeps with a prostitute. When he gets home his wife immediately makes it clear to him that she knows. She tells him she has been saving something up for him. She brings him two buckets of white gloopy liquid. This turns out to be all the semen he has ejaculated into her (his "heavenly wife") since they have been married. The man is very upset, but the story ends with him becoming more and more prosperous. He doesn't consider what happens to be that odd.
Some of the stories, with their disappearing women, and ghosts (or demons) that appear to be women, remind me very much of modern Japanese literature, especially the work of Haruki Murakami. He might be knows as one of the most 'Western' of Japanese writers, but reading these old tales you can see where a lot of his ideas come from.
This is a huge book and I have been reading it on and off for a while now. Now I have finally finished it I just know that I am going to be dipping in and out of it for many years to come.
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Japanese Tales (Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library) by Royall Tyler (Paperback - 1 Oct 2002)