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Book No. 52

To first story in the book press: 2298

To last story in the book press: 2354

Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan

Smith Richard Gordon

Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan, Richard Gordon Smith, 1918


by Richard Gordon Smith

London, A. & C. Black



This is a memorable collection of historical legends and folktales from Japan. Nearly all of them are set in a well-defined time and place, instead of 'once upon a time.' Themes include ghosts; unrequited love across social boundaries; Shinto landscape, tree and ocean spirits; and tales driven by Bushido and Buddhist ethics. Not a few of these yarns end up with someone committing Seppuku.

Smith does not try to dress up the language or narrative for westerners, or sentimentalize the stories. Instead, he tells each story very literally, even when they include supernatural elements. The result is an anthology of Japanese 'magical realist' tales which contemporary readers will find appealing.

Each chapter, with one exception, is illustrated by one or more colorful plates done in a typical 19th century Japanese style, all of which are included in this text.



The stories in this volume are transcribed from voluminous illustrated diaries which have been kept by me for some twenty years spent in travel and in sport in many lands – the last nine of them almost entirely in Japan, while collecting subjects of natural history for the British Museum; trawling and dredging in the Inland Sea, sometimes with success, sometimes without, but in the end contributing to the treasury some fifty things new to Science, and, according to Sir Edwin Ray Lankester, 'adding greatly to the knowledge of Japanese Ethnology.' As may be supposed, such a life has brought me into close contact with the people – the fisher, the farmer, the priest, the doctor, the children, and all others from whom there is a possibility of extracting information. Many and weird are the tales I have been told. In this volume the Publishers prefer to have a mixture – stories of Mountains, of Trees, of Flowers, of Places in History, and Legends. For the general results obtained in my diaries I have to thank our late Minister in Tokio, Sir Ernest Satow; the Ministers and Vice-Ministers of Foreign Affairs and of Agriculture, who gave me many letters of introduction; my dear friend Mr. Hattori, Governor of Hiogo Prefecture; the translators of the original notes and manuscripts (often roughly written in Japanese), among whom are Mr. Ando, Mr. Matsuzaki, and Mr. Watanabe; and Mr. Mo-No-Yuki, who drew and painted the illustrations from sketches of my own, which must often have grated on his artistic ideas, keeping him awake in reflection on the crudeness of the European sense of art.

To my faithful interpreter Yuki Egawa also are due my thanks for continual efforts to find what I wanted; and to many Japanese peasants and fishermen, whose good-nature, kindness, and hospitality have endeared them to me for ever. Well is it that they, so worthy a people, have so worthy a Sovereign.


June 1908.

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