Burton Watson and Haruo Shirane, renowned translators and scholars, introduce English-speaking readers to the vivid tradition of early and medieval Japanese anecdotal (setsuwa) literature. These orally narrated and written tales drew on both local folk tradition and continental sources. Taken from seven major anthologies of anecdotal literature compiled between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, these dramatic and often amusing stories open a major window onto the foundations of Japanese culture.
Out of thousands of setsuwa, Shirane has selected thirty-eight of the most powerful and influential, each of which is briefly introduced. Recounting the exploits of warriors, farmers, priests, and aristocrats, and concerning topics as varied as poetry, violence, power, and sex, these tales reveal the creative origins of a range of literary and dramatic genres, from court tales and travel accounts to no drama and Kabuki. Watson's impeccable translations relay the wit, mystery, and Buddhist sensibility of these protean works, while Shirane's sophisticated analysis illuminates the meaning and context of their compact stories. Capped by an extensive bibliography, this collection fully immerses the reader in the thrilling world of secular and religious tales.
"...teachers and students of Japanese literature and folklore alike may benefit from this book." — Jude Coulter-Pultz, Journal of Folklore Research
"Burton Watson is one of the best translators alive today, and his work here is superb. He captures the mystery, wit, and practical Buddhist sensibility of his Heian- and Kamakura-period sources with an easy grace, bringing them to life as few have done before." — Randle Keller Kimbrough, University of Colorado-Boulder
"Burton Watson is the preeminent translator of classical Chinese and Japanese literature working today, and Haruo Shirane is his generation's foremost scholar of classical Japanese literature." — David T. Bialock , University of Southern California
Preface and Acknowledgments
A Note on the Translations
Introduction to Anecdotal (Setsuwa) Literature
Record of Miraculous Events in Japan
Tales of Times Now Past
A Collection of Tales from Uji
A Companion in Solitude
A Collection of Things Written and Heard in the Past and Present
Tales of Renunciation
Collection of Sand and Pebbles
Bibliography of Translations and Studies in Western Languages