1001 Reads

Regularly updated blog charting the most important novels of the last 2000 and something years

Saturday, April 14, 2007

2. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (竹取物語 - Taketori Monogatari) (circa 10th century)

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Francisco: Well this was an interesting read, somehow in the 10th century the Japanese were reading stories about alien visitations... really. There's this princess which is found by a bamboo cutter inside a stalk, and at the end her people come to get her back to the moon.

As in most good alien visitation stories, and The Man Who Fell To Earth comes to mind, there is a certain disafection and lack of empathy by the part of the alien itself. This is what happens here, intrestingly. Maybe we shouldn't be post-modernist and project our cultural equivalents on the story, the alien might very well be a divinity or a kind of spirit, but in the end the story is the same.

The princess comes to love mankind at the end and pities her return to the Moon, where she'll forget all her time on Earth. It is a very pretty story and reads like a fairy tale, it is "alien" enough culturally, being from 10th century Japan to actually make very interesting reading to us westerners today. It was stories like this which made me switch the list to the international version, and based on this I am very glad I did.

The story is actually composed of several different tales of the quests that the several suitors of the Moon princess go through in order to please her, or cheat her, so that actually adds another level of interest to the story.

Vanda: I'd read this tale before, a few years back in a book of Japanese traditional tales. It's truly beautiful - the imagery, the story, the flow of the simple plot. Unlike Aesop, and unlike European tales that would be collected centuries later by the Brothers Grimm, I don't think it encompasses any particular moral tale, except perhaps that dishonesty and forgery will get you nowhere. It's rather evocative of far away lands and mysterious and magical objects, which I confess is something I tend to love in books and stories.

I'm actually quite happy we have reset the list, although now I'm looking for someone to blame for spending precious hours of my life reading Pilgrim's Progress. This is the sort of book which sheer antiquity and beauty should have made it a shoe-in for the previous list, were it not so anglo-centric. Read this, and, if possible, get the same edition we did. It's wonderful, will take very little of your time as it's quite short, and will make your day a litte bit more special.

Final Grade

Francisco: 8/10
Vanda: 8/10


From Wikipedia:

Kaguya, the mouse born by quasi-parthenogenesis, and the asteroid 7991 Kaguyahime are among the many things named after the Princess Kaguya in the tale.

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is nearly identical in form to a Tibetan tale of a similar name, and some researchers believe that the Japanese legend may have been drawn from the Tibetan one, perhaps through ancient contacts with China. The part of the legend that relates to the name of Mt. Fuji is unique to the Japanese version. However, this Tibetan tale appears only in a collection of Tibetan stories published in 1950s and similar stories are nonexistent in regions between Japan and Tibet. Thus, some researchers believe that Japanese explorers venturing into Tibet introduced the Japanese tale where it became a classic.

There have also been suggestions that it is related to the tale of Swan Lake. This probably is due to Princess Kaguya-hime wearing the hagoromo 羽衣 "feather robe" when she ascends to her homeland. But the feather robe figures more famously in a group of tales known as the hagoromo densetsu (in one example recorded in the Ohmi-no-kuni Fudo ki tells of a man who instructs his dog to steal the feather garments of eight heavenly maidens while they were bathing, forcing one of them to become his bride). And the latter is remarkably similar to the tale of how Völundr the Smith and his brothers wedded the swan-maidens.

Japanese 1973 neo-folk by a band called Kaguyahime! (Moon Princess):


  • At 9:29 PM, Blogger agabus said…

    are you still doing this?

  • At 5:39 AM, Blogger Francisco Silva said…

    Matt: Yes, indeed. I am having a hard time with the 1150 pages of the unabridged Tale Of Genji... but there's just about 400 pages to go.

  • At 10:17 AM, Blogger Gizzle said…

    Cool, I've heard of it, must be nice instruction for seduction. I can't wait you finish it. Thx


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