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Authors: Hiroshi Naito

Legends of Japan

BOOK: Legends of Japan
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Legends of Japan


For Continental Europe:

For the British Isles:

For Australasia:
PAUL FLESCH & CO., PTY. LTD., Melbourne

For Canada:
M. G. HURTIG, LTD., Edmonton

These legends are printed with permission of the
Daily News,
in which they previously appeared.

Published by the Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc
of Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan
with editorial office at Osaki Shinagawa-ku,
Tokyo 141-0032

© 1972 by Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc.

All rights reserved

Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 73-188013
ISBN: 978-1-4629-0772-4 (ebook)

First printing, 1972

Printed in Japan

Table of Contents

The fishermen's battle
Wrestling a serpent
The lost chance
The reed-mower and the lady
The iron hat
The demon's spittle
A piece of straw
The hunter's trick
No melon to spare
A water sprite
The ogre's horses
The dragon king's palace
The bishop's kick
The long-nosed goblins
Bewitched by a boar
A cat-hater
The flying water jars
Grave of the chopstick
The bell thieves
The monkey's gratitude
The lost dinner
Reunion with death


stories contained in this book take their material from
Konjaku Monogatari
(Tales, Ancient and Modern) written in the Heian period (794-1185), one of the classical literary masterpieces of Japan, as valued as the works of Shakespeare and Goethe. Unfortunately, however,
Konjaku Monogatari
is less known to foreign readers than the famous
Genji Monogatari
(The Tale of Genji) and
Makura no Soshi
(The Pillow Book), though they were written in the same period. Even among Japanese readers, this work has been hitherto less popular than the latter two, because it was not written in their accomplished style, and in addition it did not deal with such enthralling subjects as gorgeous court life or high society of the day.
Konjaku Monogatari
is composed of thirty-one volumes presenting Japanese, Chinese, and Indian legendary tales, each tale beginning with the familiar phrase "Long, long ago."

The stories range from Buddhist moral tales to humorous anecdotes and fairy tales. A great variety of characters appear in this legendary literature, such as Buddha himself, Shinto deities, noblemen and common people, and even goblins and animals, who act humorously, cruelly, or erotically in the stories. They all live in a world of disorder. The Japanese heroes and heroines live in the chaotic years of the late Heian period, when the nobleman-ruled social structure was being supplanted by the newly budding medieval feudal system. With national police no longer able to exercise authority in the provinces or in the capital, both the nobility and the masses struggled helplessly, their life and property threatened by bands of robbers day and night. In such a state of utter confusion, only the wicked could successfully seize an opportunity to survive, their consciences already paralyzed by evil influences. The honest and weak had no recourse but struggle in the abyss, madly seeking some miserable means of staying alive. Some could protect themselves from danger by using force, by exercising intellect, or by asking the help of merciful Buddha, and some others met a tragic end.

"... for several years, Kyoto had been visited by a series of calamities—earthquake, typhoon, great fire, and famine. And so the capital was deserted. Old records say that shattered wooden images of Buddha or the accessories of household Buddhist shrines, with red lacquer, gold, or silver leaf still sticking to them, were piled up on the roadside and sold for firewood. The whole capital being in such a state, there was, of course, no one who took the least interest in the repair of the decayed Gate of Rashomon. Profiting by the devastation, foxes and other wild animals came to inhabit the gate. Thieves made it their den. Finally it even became customary for people to bring unclaimed corpses to this gate and leave them there. Scared by its ghostliness, the people of Kyoto would not come near the gate after sunset."

Thus a dark picture of the destitute people in the decaying capital was painted by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927), a literary genius, in his work
which took its material from stories contained in
Konjaku Monogatari.
The screenplay for the world-famed Japanese film
was based on a mixture of his two stories,
In a Bamboo Grove.

Konjaku Monogatari
was written with an excellent realistic touch and therefore is highly valued as the first example of realism in Japanese prose literature. Though of unknown authorship, it is said to have been written by a court noble named Minamoto Takakuni (1004-1077), or rewritten later using his
Uji Dainagon Monogatari
(The Tales of Uji Dainagon) as the original.

Two of the stories, "The Iron Hat" and "The Lost Dinner," are from a second source,
Tsurezure Gusa
(Jottings of a Hermit), one of the master-works written in the era of military dictatorhip at Kamakura (1192-1333). It was written by the monk Kenko (1283-1350) around 1330. Popularly called Kenko Hoshi, the monk was of noble birth and versed in Japanese and Chinese classics. He was also a renowned
composer of his time.
Tsurezure Gusa
contains 243 tales, each different in length and indicative of his philosophy. They can be divided into three categories—lessons on life, culture, and miscellaneous observations.

These stories, and illustrations by Masahiko Nishino, were selected from a series originally
published in the
Mainichi Daily Mews.


1. The fishermen's battle

in the province of Kaga (now Ishikawa Prefecture), there lived a group of seven fishermen who always carried weapons of war, such as bows and arrows, as they went fishing.

One day they went out in a boat, as usual. While they were fishing at sea, black clouds suddenly covered the whole sky and the wind began blowing in violent gusts.

"A storm is coming!"

"Let us return to the shore at once."

They immediately stopped fishing and tried to row their boat with all their strength back to the shore. The wind blew harder and the boat was tossed about by angry waves. All the fishermen felt miserable. They soon found their boat was drifting toward the open sea. Gripping the edge of the boat in order not to be thrown out into the sea, they prayed to Holy Buddha for their safety.

As the storm blew over, the seven men did not know how long they had been adrift. They suddenly sighted an island out on the horizon. "Land!" they cried delightedly, and tried to row their boat toward the island. Strangely, the boat automatically began running toward it as if it were attracted by a magnet. It was not long before their boat reached the island. The fishermen landed on the shore and congratulated one another on their safety.

"What is the name of this island?"

"I have never heard of this island."

"Hey, look! There are many trees heavy with fruit over there."

Though they felt relieved to reach the island, they soon felt uneasy about it. Just then, a good-looking young man suddenly appeared from nowhere and addressed them: "Welcome to you all. I have been expecting your arrival. To tell the truth, it is I who have called you to this island." The fishermen could not understand what the young man had said, so they just stared at one another. One of them said that while fishing, they were overtaken by a storm which blew them to the island. Then the young man said it was he who had caused the storm to blow. At that, the fishermen imagined that he must have been more than an ordinary person, and looked at him nervously.

The young man cried something in the direction from which he had come, and the next instant there appeared many men carrying a chest. As the fishermen opened the chest, they found in it a sumptuous meal which the young man offered to them. Since the fishermen were very hungry, they gratefully ate it all.

Then the young man said, "Now, I want to ask a big favor of you. There is another island far away from here. The king of that island has tried to kill me many times because he wants to take this island from me. Tomorrow he will come again to fight our decisive battle. So, I have called you here to ask for your help."

The fishermen felt very interested in his story and promised that they would be glad to help him win a victory.

"How many men will come with him?"

"Oh, they are not human beings. I am not a human being either. You will find out what I am tomorrow."

The fishermen felt very uneasy about the young man.

He said, "Now, let us work out our fighting plan. When they appear, let them come ashore. Then I will come down from a hill beyond. As I fight the enemy king, I will give you a signal. Then you should immediately shower all your arrows on him. Since my enemy is a strong fighter, please be careful." He added that the battle would start at noon and that they should take their positions on a huge rock near the beach. With that, the young man disappeared into a wood beyond.

The next morning the fishermen took their positions on the rock, as told. In the meantime, black clouds covered the sky, and a strong wind began blowing, and mountainous waves came dashing ashore. They thought the battle would start soon. All of a sudden they saw a couple of big fireballs appear above the horizon, and the next moment these balls began approaching the island. Something was swimming toward them. They soon found it to be a very big centipede about 100 feet long. The fireballs were his sparkling eyes!

Just then, the fishermen heard the grass rustle on the hill beyond, and they saw an enormous serpent come down to the beach.

After glaring at each other for a moment, the animals started a fierce battle, biting each other's bodies. They fought for nearly four hours. As the centipede's feet gave him an advantage, he finally held the serpent down on the ground. The fishermen, who were awaiting the serpent's signal, feared that he would be bitten to death. The serpent soon gave them a "help me" sign, so they showered all the arrows on the victorious centipede, who, though wounded, would not release the serpent. Thereupon the seven fighters assaulted the centipede with their swords, severing all the feet from his body and cutting the body to pieces. Thus the enemy king was killed. Meanwhile, the serpent disappeared from the battleground. The fishermen found their kimonos soaked with the monstrous centipede's blood. After a while, the young man came limping toward them. He looked very tired and on his face were many cuts. He thanked them for their help and burned the centipede's body on the beach.

The young man invited them to live on the fertile island, which produced abundant fruit. It was indeed an attractive invitation, but as the fishermen had left their families in their province, they could not accept it at once. Then the man urged them to bring their families to the island.

"It is really a good invitation. But we don't know how to bring our families here," they said.

"Oh, it is an easy thing to do. I will blow your boat to your country. When you wish to return to this island, you should pray to the Kumata Shrine for assistance and the deity will blow your boat hither. The shrine is dedicated to my brother," said the serpent-man.

So the fishermen decided to bring their families to the island, and immediately set sail for their country, bidding a temporary farewell to the man. As he had said, their boat was blown by a favorable wind and soon reached the shore of Kaga Province. Their families, which had been worried about them, were very happy to meet them again. The fishermen told them the story, and their families agreed to move to the island. Their neighbors also wished to go with them. One night they sailed from their country in seven boats. As they had prayed to the Kumata Shrine for assistance, the boats were blown by a divine wind and glided over the surface of the sea as swiftly as flying arrows. Soon they reached the island.

Later the settlers named their island "Nekojima" (Gat's Island) and lived their long, happy lives there.

BOOK: Legends of Japan
2.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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