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Tales of Times Now Past: Sixty-Two Stories from a Medieval Japanese Collection (Michigan Classics in Japanese Studies) Paperback – August 1, 1993
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Text: English, Japanese (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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In her 5 + 25 page introduction Ury provides the reader with a concise but very detailed and well-informed analysis of the setsuwa genre, as well as the contents, sources, religious beliefs, and a select bibliography of important Western and Japanese works on the Konjaku. It could not have been better written. Ury's Tales has been the standard introduction in English to the Konjaku since it was first published in 1979, and will probably remain so for the foreseeable future.
[It seems very likely, based on the following note which came to my attention, that Yoshiko Kurata Dykstra, another prominent scholar of setsuwa, may already have published a COMPLETE translation of the Konjaku:
--- The Konjaku Tales: from a Medieval Japanese Collection. 5 vols. Intercultural Research Institute monograph series no. 17-18, 23, 25, 27. Osaka: Kansai University of Foreign Studies, 1986-. Complete translation: Indian Section, Part 1/Part 2; Chinese Section; Japanese Section, Part 1/Part 2. ---
I cannot verify this sketchy information and have asked Amazon for help. Unfortunately, a work published in Osaka may have difficulty finding its way into normal distribution channels in the West.]
The text of Ury's translation is 199 pages (including the 25-page introduction and a number of illustrations from a Japanese edition of 1720) in a convenient handbook measuring 8 1/2" X 5 1/2", with Footnotes actually at the FOOT of the page. It is hard to understand how one reader finds this book to be "very long and sometimes hard to follow," and, indeed "extremely long." A small paperback of 199 pages?
I recommend this book enthusiastically and without reservation!
Of course there are some things I would have translated differently. For example, in many cases the word "daija" (literally "big snake") should be translated into English as "dragon" (even though it's commonly used in modern Japanese for its literal meaning). But this is something that a translator probably wouldn't know unless they were a student of Japanese cryptozoology.
The Konjaku Monogatari is a huge multi-volume text. The first chapters involve Indian tales, the next few chapters involve Chinese tales, and the second half is devoted to Japanese tales. The really interesting thing about stories reported in the Japanese tales, is not that they were all supposedly "true stories", but rather the fact that they involved not only tales told by the aristocrasy or the clergy, but also tales told amongst the peasants.
(My favorite, volume 27, is devoted to ghost stories.)
It is of serious interest to anyone interested in ancient Japanese folkore and thought patterns.
It is difficult to find translations into Enlish, or even into Modern Japanese. For this reason alone, a true Japanophile should grab any translation they can get their hands on for the collector's value alone.
In regards to the story selection of this book, I must say it's rather unorthodox. Most translations of the Konjaku into English or Modern Japanese focus exclusively on the stories from Japan. The idea here is that people interested in Indian or Chinese stories would rather read them directly from Indian or Chinese sources. OTOH, the author's story selection could still prove to be of use to people who are trying to study the spread of Indian and Chinese legends to Japan. However, people looking just for Japanese folkore could be disappointed in this purchase if not forewarned.