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The Demon at Agi Bridge and Other Japanese Tales (Translations from the Asian Classics) Paperback – December 10, 2010

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Product Details

  • Series: Translations from the Asian Classics
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (December 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231152450
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231152457
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.9 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,101,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


...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)

More About the Author

Haruo Shirane was born in Japan and grew up in the United States. He had an interest in writing fiction and started as an English literature major in college, but in his junior year, after a year in London, he turned his attention to Japanese literature. His first book was on The Tale of Genji, which is noted as the world's "first novel." The Bridge of Dreams: A Poetics of the Tale of Genji looks at both the similarities to the modern European novel and at the very distinct differences, examining the Tale of Genji in a broad social, political, and literary context. His next major book was on Matsuo Basho and haiku. Here he begins with a comparative framework, looking at the North American and European reception of Japanese haiku and then goes on to show the highly unusual manner in which this poetry emerged and the cultural base on which it stands. The most recent book, Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, continues this trajectory, but carries it into various literary, visual, and artistic genres. He is interested in particular in the major role that nature and the four seasons has in Japanese culture.

In between these books, he has written two books on Japanese classical grammar, edited a number of anthologies of Japanese literature, and edited two volumes of essays on the issues of canonization and popularization of the Japanese classics.

Haruo Shirane is Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, at Columbia University. He writes widely on Japanese literature, visual arts, and cultural history. He is particularly interested in the interaction between popular and elite cultures and the issue of cultural memory. He is the recipient of Fulbright, Japan Foundation, SSRC, NEH grants, and has been awarded the Kadokawa Genyoshi Prize, Ishida Hakyō Prize, and the Ueno Satsuki Memorial Prize on Japanese Culture.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By H.A.H. on December 14, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I bought the Kindle edition of this book for my son as it was required reading for his Japanese Literature class in college. One of several things I like about buying books for Kindle is that any member of my family can download it on to our Kindles and read it without having to wait to pass it back and forth or buy another copy. My son let me know he liked the book so I decided to read it also.

These tales are setsuwa, which was type of literature based in an oral traditions, which was prominent from the 9th through the 13th centuries in Japan.

The stories can also be enjoyed and read independently, however, they are divided into sections depending on the themes of the stories, and also by from where and when the stories originated. There is an order to the tales, which can be seen as elements of the larger sections, and this enhances the experience of reading these tales. This collection covers a wide variety of topics and gives interesting insights into the the historical Japanese culture, mores, and values, as do any traditional stories, folk tales, or fables from any culture.

Because this is collection of a great variety of Literature over many years, there are tales that are more obvious, with in-your-face lessons, and tales that are more nuanced and subtle. It is a great introduction to some of the core stories of historical Japanese Literature, which led me to wanting to read and learn more.

One odd thing to note: why does the Amazon list Philip K. Dick as the author of this book? As far as I can tell there is no connection between this book and this author whatsoever.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Aubrie on January 22, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
My rating: 4.5/5

When I came across this book on Amazon, it had me at : "The Demon at Agi Bridge," a fantastic story, and Haruo Shirane, a fantastic scholar. Being familiar with and an admirer of Shirane's writings on Basho and haiku, I could think of no better person to guide me through setsuwa, Japanese anecdotal literature.

The Demon at Agi Bridge and Other Japanese Tales includes thirty-eight moving and entertaining setsuwa from seven major anthologies compiled between the ninth to thirteenth centuries, selected by Shirane and translated by Burton Watson. With a brief, but informative introductions to the collection and each section, this book provides cultural and literary context for the reader unfamiliar with the history of Japanese literature.

The setsuwa in this book cover tales from India, China, and Japan (from Buddhist and secular veins), and features characters from all social classes and professions. One of my biggest complaints about Royall Tyler's Japanese Tales has been the exclusion of India and China setsuwa. Tyler's intentions are reasonable, but I feel he failed to acknowledge how these tales have influence and are a part of Japan's setsuwa tradition.

Of particular interest to me, Shirane has included several stories that feature prominent female characters, such as the woman in "The Woman of Pleasure at Eguchi" and the wife in "How a Poor Man Left His Wife and She Became the Wife of the Governor of Settsu," and several stories revolving around poetry, including the strong ending piece "The Deep Meaning Underlying the Way of Japanese Poetry." Each of setsuwa carries its weight and adds to the richness of the collection.
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