Bebe Taian: Book Review: Japanese Tales, by Royall Tyler

March 26, 2013

Book Review: Japanese Tales, by Royall Tyler

Awhile ago, I bought a tonne of books to read and review. I haven’t taken much time to read anything, and one book has taken weeks between laundromat runs and a half-hour here and there before bed. Finally, I have two to review this week!

The first is “Japanese Tales”, by Royall Tyler. I was hoping for something more obake influenced, but this book didn’t disappoint! “Japanese Tales” is a collection of 220 stories, which were translated and edited by Tyler. What made me especially happy was his style of notation in the preface and the appendix. Why? Because he breaks down (in Romanized Japanese) what texts the stories come from, along with what approximate dates these stories supposedly came from (supposedly, because it’s up to you whether or not to believe in someone’s religious visions of heaven or hell), and the context of some of the works.

Most of the stories in this book are Buddhist-related, but a few are Shinto-inspired, or a mix. Fox and badger magic, powerful monks, and gods/goddesses abound. There are a few stories of obake or demons, but not many, so if that’s what you’re after, another book may be better. Even so, “Japanese Tales” is worth the read!

One such tale is as follows:


A miserably poor monk of Miidera decided that the temple had nothing to offer him, and that if he meant to claim the success he deserved he would have to try elsewhere. Not wanting to leave in broad daylight, especially looking as shabby as he did, he stole off in the darkness before dawn. Having a long, hard road ahead of him, he soon lay down for a nap.

He dreamed of a pale, sad, skinny youth, clearly a traveler like himself, whom he had not seen before. “Who are you?” he asked.

“Your servant these many years,” the youth replied. “We’ve never been apart and I’m coming with you now.”

“I don’t know you. What’s your name?”

“I’m not exactly a person so I don’t have a normal name. But people who catch a glimpse of me call me Poverty.”

The man woke up and understood his real future. With that youth beside him he might as well stay put. Back he went to Miidera, lost in thought.

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