A History of Japanese Literature/Book 3/Chapter 3

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The "Kokinshiu" Preface

About two centuries elapsed after the Kojiki was written without any substantial addition being made to the prose literature of Japan. Some of the Norito and Imperial edicts described in a previous chapter belong to this period, but it was not until the early part of the tenth century that Japanese writers took up in earnest the practice of prose composition in their native language. Ki no Tsurayuki, the poet and editor of the Kokinshiu, was the first in the field.

But few details of his life have reached us. He was a court noble who traced his descent in a direct line from one of the Mikados, and his history is little more than the record of the successive offices which he held at Kiōto and in the provinces. He died A.D. 946.

His famous preface to the Kokinshiu was written about 922. It has to this day a reputation in Japan as the ne plus ultra of elegance in style. Later literature is full of allusions to it, and it has served as the model for countless similar essays. It is interesting as the first attempt to discuss such a philosophical question as the nature of poetry in a thoughtful spirit. I transcribe the more important passages:—

"The poetry of Yamato (Japan) has the human heart for its seed, and grows therefrom into the manifold forms of speech. Men are full of various activities, among which poetry is that which consists in expressing the thoughts of their hearts by metaphors taken from what they see or hear.

"Listening to the nightingale singing among the flowers or to the cry of the frog which dwells in the water, we recognise the truth that of all living things there is not one which does not utter song. It is poetry by which, without an effort, heaven and earth are moved, and gods and demons invisible to our eyes are touched with sympathy. By poetry the converse of lovers is made gentler, and the hearts of fierce warriors soothed.

"Poetry began when heaven and earth were created. But of that which has been handed down to our day, the first was made in everlasting heaven by Shita-teru-hime, and on the ore-yielding earth by Susa-no-wo. In the age of the swift gods it would seem that as yet there was no established metre. Their poetry was artless in form and hard of comprehension. It was in the age of man that Susa-no-wo made the first poetry of thirty and one syllables. And so by the varied multiplication of thoughts and language we came to express our love for flowers, our envy of birds, our emotion at the sight of the hazes which usher in the spring, or our grief at beholding the dew.[1] As a distant journey is begun by our first footstep and goes on for months and years, as a high mountain has its beginning in the dust of its base and at length rises aloft and extends across the sky like the clouds of heaven, so gradual must have been the rise of poetry.


"In the present day love has seduced men's hearts into a fondness for ornament. Hence nothing is produced but frivolous poetry without depth of feeling. In the houses of those given to a life of gallantry, poetry is like a tree buried in the ground and unknown to men; while with more serious people it is regarded as a flowering suzuki[2] which will never bear ears of grain. If we consider its origin, this ought not to be. The Mikados of former times, on a morning when the spring flowers were in blossom, or on a night when the autumn moon was shining, used to send for their courtiers and demand from them verses suitable to the occasion. Some would represent themselves as wandering in trackless places in search of the flowers they loved; others would describe their groping in the guideless dark and longing for the moon. The Mikado would then examine all such fancies, and pronounce this to be clever, that to be stupid.

"Or else they wished prosperity to their lord, using the metaphors of pebbles[3] or of Mount Tsukuba.[4] When joy was too much for them, when their hearts overflowed with pleasure, when they felt their love to be eternal as the smoke which rises from Mount Fuji, when they longed for a friend with the yearning of the cry of the matsumushi [a kind of cicada], when the sight of the pair of fir-trees of Takasago and Suminoye suggested a husband and wife growing old together, when they thought of their bygone days of manly vigour, or grudged to the past the one time of maiden bloom, it was with poetry that they comforted their hearts. Again, when they looked upon the flowers shed from their stalks on a spring morning, or heard the leaves falling on an autumnal eve, or every year lamented the snow and waves [i.e. grey hairs] reflected in a mirror; or, seeing the dew upon the grass or the foam upon water, were startled to recognise in them emblems of their own lives; or else, but yesterday in all the pride of prosperity, to-day, with a turn of fortune, saw themselves doomed to a wretched life, those dear to them estranged; or again drew metaphors from the waves and the fir-clad mountain or the spring of water in the midst of the moor, or gazed on the under leaves of the autumn lespedeza, or counted the times a snipe preens its feathers at dawn, or compared mankind to a joint of bamboo floating down a stream, or expressed their disgust with the world, by the simile of the river Yoshino, or heard that the smoke no longer rises from Mount Fuji, or that the bridge of Nagara had been repaired—in all these cases poetry it was by which they soothed their hearts."

The above are allusions to well-known poems. Tsurayuki traces briefly the history of Japanese poetry in the Nara period, and then goes on to speak of the more recent poets whose effusions find a place in the collection he had made. The following may have some interest as the earliest example of literary criticism in Japan:—

"Henjō excels in form, but substance is wanting. The emotion produced by his poetry is evanescent, and may be compared to that which we experience at the sight of a beautiful woman in a painting. Narihira overflows with sentiment, but his language is deficient. His verse is like a flower which, although withered and without bloom, yet retains its fragrance. Yasuhide is skilful in the use of words, but they match ill with his matter, as if a shopkeeper were to dress himself in fine silks. Kisen is profound, but the connection between the beginning and the end is indistinct. He may be compared to the autumn moon, which, as we gaze on it, is obscured by the clouds of dawn. We have not much of his poetry, so that we gain little towards understanding it by a comparison of one poem with another. Ono no Komachi belongs to the school of Soto-ori-hime of ancient times. There is feeling in her poems, but little vigour. She is like a lovely woman who is suffering from ill health. Want of vigour, however, is only natural in a woman's poetry. Kuronushi's verse is poor in form. He resembles a woodman burdened with faggots resting in the shade of flowers."

"Tosa Nikki"

Another work of Tsurayuki's is the Tosa Nikki or Tosa Diary. It was written on a journey back to Kiōto after having completed his term of four years' service as Prefect of that province.

The first entry bears date the 21st day of the twelfth month, and we learn from other sources that the year was the fourth year of Shōhei. This would be, according to the European reckoning, some time in the months of January or February A.D. 935.

Tsurayuki begins by telling his readers that diaries being commonly written by men, this is an attempt to write a woman's diary; meaning, that it was in the Japanese language and written character, not in Chinese. He then records his departure from the Government House of Tosa, and his arrival at the port from which he was to sail. He was accompanied hither by large numbers of people who came to take leave of him. Most brought with them parting presents, usually of eatables or saké. The result was that in Tsurayuki's words, "Strange to say, here we were all fresh by the shore of the salt sea." He did not actually set sail till the 27th, the intervening six days being chiefly taken up in disposing of the presents, and in a visit to the newly appointed Prefect, with whom he spent a day and night in drinking and verse-making, after which he took a final leave. Tsurayuki's successor in office shook hands with him at the bottom of the steps leading up to the house, and they bade each other farewell with many cordial but tipsy expressions of good-will on both sides. On the following day, however, we find Tsurayuki in a different frame of mind. He tells us that during his stay in Tosa a girl had died who was born in Kiōto, and that amid all the bustle and confusion of leaving port, her friends could think of nothing but her. Some one, he says, composed this verse of poetry on the occasion: "With the joyful thought, 'Home to Kiōto,' there mingles the bitter reflection that there is one who never will return." We are informed by another writer that Tsurayuki here deplores the loss of his own daughter, a little girl of nine years of age.

But the jollifications had not yet come to an end. The new Prefect's brother made his appearance at a projecting cape on their way to the first stopping-place, and they were accordingly obliged to land on the beach, where there was more drinking and composing of verses. Of these Tsurayuki seems to have had no great opinion. He says that it required the united efforts of two of the party to make one bad verse, and compares them to two fishermen labouring along with a heavy net on their shoulders. Their jollity was interrupted by the master of the junk, who summoned them on board. There was a fair wind, he said, and the tide served; and Tsurayuki maliciously adds that there was no more saké to drink. They accordingly embarked, and proceeded on their voyage.

On the 29th they had got no farther than Ominato, a harbour only a few miles distant from their starting-point. Here they were detained for ten days waiting for a fair wind. Presents of eatables and drinkables still came in, but more sparingly, and Tsurayuki records regretfully the fate of a bottle of saké which he had fastened on the roof of the cabin, but which was displaced by the rolling of the junk and fell overboard. One of these presents was a pheasant, which, according to the old Japanese custom, was attached to a flowering branch of plum. Some brought verses with their gifts. Here is a specimen: "Louder than the clamour of the white surges on your onward path will be the cry of me weeping that I am left behind." Tsurayuki remarks that if that were really so, he must have a very loud voice.

On the 9th of the second month they at last sailed from Ominato. As they passed Matsubara, they admired a large grove of ancient firs which grew by the seashore. Tsurayuki mentions the pleasure with which they watched the cranes flying about among their tops, and gives us this verse composed on the occasion: "Casting my glance over the sea, on each fir-tree[5] top a crane has his dwelling. They have been comrades for a thousand years."

It became dark before they reached their next stopping-place. The idea of pursuing their voyage all night long does not seem to have occurred to them. Besides, to judge from its having gone up the Osaka river as far as Yamazaki, their junk must have been a very small one, and the diary shows that it depended more on oars than on sails. Here is Tsurayuki's description of nightfall:—

"Whilst we rowed along gazing on this scene, the mountains and the sea became all dark, the night deepened, and east and west could not be distinguished, so we entrusted all thought of the weather to the mind of the master of our ship. Even the men who were not accustomed to the sea became very sad, and still more the women, who rested their heads on the bottom of the ship and did nothing but weep. The sailors, however, seemed to think nothing of it, and sung the following boat-song." Tsurayuki gives a few lines of it, and then proceeds. "There was a great deal more of this kind of stuff, but I do not write it down. Listening to the laughter at these verses, our hearts became somewhat calmed in spite of the raging of the sea. It was quite dark when we at length reached our anchorage for the night."

Three more days leisurely travelling brought them to Murotsu, a port just to the west of the eastern of the two horns which the island of Shikoku sends out to the southward. The morning after their arrival here, a slight but constant rain prevented them from starting, and the passengers took the opportunity to go on shore for a bath. In the entry for this day, Tsurayuki mentions a curious superstition. He tells us that since the day on which they first embarked, no one wore scarlet or other rich colours or good silks, lest they should incur the anger of the gods of the sea. The next day the rain continued. It was a Buddhist fast-day, and Tsurayuki kept it faithfully till noon; but as suitable food for fast-days was not obtainable on board, he bought with rice (not having any copper cash) a tai which one of the sailors had caught the day before. This was the beginning of a trade between him and the sailors, saké and rice being exchanged for fish. There was no change in the weather till the 17th, the fifth day from their arrival at Murotsu. On that day they started early in the morning with the moon, then just past the full, shining over a waveless sea, which reflected the sky so perfectly, that, as Tsurayuki said, the heaven above and the ocean beneath could not be distinguished. He composed the following stanza on this occasion: "What is this that strikes against my oar as the boat is rowed along over the moon of the sea-depths? Is it the bush of the man in the moon?"

The fine weather, however, did not continue. Dark clouds gathering overhead alarmed the master of the junk, and they put back to Murotsu under a pelting shower, and feeling very miserable. Three more wretched days they were obliged to remain here, endeavouring with indifferent success to while away the time by writing Chinese and Japanese verses, and every morning counting the days that had been already spent on the voyage. On the 21st they again proceeded on their way. A large number of other junks sailed at the same time, a pretty sight, which was greatly admired by Tsurayuki. "It was spring," he remarks, "but it seemed as if over the sea the leaves of autumn were being scattered." The weather was now fine, and they entered what we call the Kii Channel.

Here they were disturbed by a fresh cause of anxiety. It seems that Tsurayuki during his term of office in Tosa had had occasion to deal rather severely with the pirates of these parts, and it was thought likely that they would now try to have their revenge. One of the commentators attempts to save Tsurayuki's reputation for courage by reminding us that this diary is written in the character of a woman. The course of the narrative shows that their fears were to all appearance well grounded. Two days later we find them praying to the Kami and Hotoke[6] to save them from the pirates. On the following days there were constant alarms, and on the 26th they heard that the pirates were actually in pursuit of them, so they left their anchorage at midnight and put to sea. There was a place on their way where it was usual to make offerings to the God of the Sea. Tsurayuki made the captain offer nusa.[7] They were offered by being cast into the air, and allowing the wind to carry them to the sea. The nusa fell in an easterly direction, and the junk's course was turned to the same quarter. To the great joy of all on board, they had now a favourable wind, sail was set, and they made a good day's run. The next two days they were again storm-bound, but on the 29th they proceeded on their voyage. On the 30th they crossed the entrance to the Naruto passage, and the same night, by dint of hard rowing, they reached the strait of Idzumi. They had now reached the Gokinai, or five provinces round Kiōto, and here there was no longer any fear of pirates. The 1st day of the second month they made little way, and on the 2nd we have the following entry: "The rain and wind ceased not; a whole day and a whole night we prayed to the Kami and Hotoke." On the next day the weather was equally bad, and on the 4th the captain would not put to sea, from a fear of bad weather which proved quite groundless. There were a great many beautiful shells on the beach at this place, and Tsurayuki composed these lines in allusion to a shell which is called in Japanese the wasure-gai or "shell of forgetfulness:" "I would descend from my ship to gather the shell of forgetfulness of one for whom I am filled with sorrowful longing. Do ye, oh ye advancing surges, drive it forward to the strand." He afterwards says that the true wish of his heart was not to forget her whom he had lost, but only to give such respite to his sorrow that it might afterwards gain greater strength.

The following is part of the entry for the 5th, the day before they arrived in the Osaka river. They were now opposite Sumiyoshi.

"Meanwhile a sudden gale sprung up, and in spite of all our efforts we fell gradually to leeward, and were in great danger of being sent to the bottom. 'This god of Sumiyoshi,' said the captain, 'is like other gods. What he desires is not any of the fashionable articles of the day. Give him nusa as an offering.' The captain's advice was taken, and nusa were offered; but as the wind, instead of ceasing, only blew harder and harder, and the danger from the storm and sea became more and more imminent, the captain again said, 'Because the august heart of the god is not moved for nusa, neither does the august ship move; offer to him something in which he will take greater pleasure.' In compliance with this advice, I bethought me what it would be best to offer. 'Of eyes I have a pair—then let me give to the god my mirror, of which I have only one.' The mirror was accordingly flung into the sea, to my very great regret; but no sooner had I done so than the sea itself became as smooth as a mirror."

The next day they entered the Osaka river. All the passengers, men, women, and children, were overjoyed at reaching this point of their voyage, and clasped their foreheads with their hands in ecstasies of delight. Several days were now spent in dragging the vessel laboriously against the strong current of the river. A fast-day occurred on their way up it, which Tsurayuki had this time the satisfaction of keeping properly by abstaining entirely from fish. On the 12th they reached Yamazaki, from which place a carriage (that is, one of the bullock-carts in which nobles rode) was sent for to Kiōto, and on the evening of the 16th they left Yamazaki for the capital. Tsurayuki was greatly delighted to recognise the old familiar landmarks as he rode along. He mentions the children's playthings and sweetmeats in the shops as looking exactly as when he went away, and wonders whether he will find as little change in the hearts of his friends. He had purposely left Yamazaki in the evening in order that it might be night when he reached his own dwelling. I translate his account of the state in which he found it:—

"When I reached my house and entered the gate the moon was shining brightly, and its condition was plainly to be seen. It was decayed and ruined beyond all description—worse even than I had been told. The heart of the man in whose charge I left it must have been in an equally dilapidated condition. The fence between the two houses had been broken down, so that both seemed but one, and he appeared to have fulfilled his charge by looking in through the gaps. And yet I had supplied him by every opportunity with the means of keeping it in repair. To-night, however, I would not allow him to be told this in an angry tone, but in spite of my vexation, offered him an acknowledgment for his trouble. There was in one place a sort of pond where water had collected in a hollow, by the side of which grew a fir-tree. It had lost half its branches, and looked as if a thousand years had passed during the five or six years of my absence. Younger trees had grown up round it, and the whole place was in a most neglected condition, so that every one said that it was pitiful to see. Among other sad thoughts that rose spontaneously to my mind was the memory—ah, how sorrowful!—of one who was born in this house, but who did not return here along with me. My fellow-travellers were chatting merrily with their children in their arms; but I meanwhile, still unable to contain my grief, privately repeated these lines to one who knew my heart."

I shall not give the verses, but proceed to the last sentence of the diary, which is as follows: "I cannot write down all my many regrets and memories; be it for good or for evil, here I will fling away my pen."

The Tosa Nikki is a striking example of the importance of style. It contains no exciting adventures or romantic situations; there are in it no wise maxims or novel information; its only merit is that it describes in simple yet elegant language, and with a vein of playful humour, the ordinary life of a traveller in Japan at the time when it was written. But this has proved sufficient to give it a high rank amongst Japanese classics, and has insured its being handed down to our own day as a most esteemed model for composition in the native Japanese style. It has been followed by many imitations, but has had no equal.

"Taketori Monogatari" and "Ise Monogatari"

Monogatari, a word which will be frequently met with below, means "narrative." It is applied chiefly to fiction but there are some true histories which fall under this denomination.

The date and authorship of both these books is unknown. We may, however, accept the opinion of the eminent native critic Motoöri, that they belong to a time not long after the period Yengi (901–922). Both are obviously the work of persons well versed in the literature of the day, and familiar with court life in Kiōto.

The Taketori Monogatari[8] is usually given the precedence in order of time. It is what we should call a fairy-tale. The scene is laid in the neighbourhood of Kiōto, and the personages are all Japanese. The language too is as nearly as possible pure Japanese. But there are abundant traces of foreign influences. The supernatural machinery is either Buddhist or Taoist, and most even of the incidents are borrowed from the copious fairy-lore of China.

An old man who earned a living by making bamboo-ware (Taketori means bamboo-gatherer) espied one day in the woods a bamboo with a shining stem. He split it open, and discovered in one of the joints a beautiful little maiden three inches in height. He took her home and adopted her as his daughter, giving her the name of Kaguyahime or the "shining damsel." She speedily grew up to womanhood, when her beauty attracted numerous admirers. To each of them she assigned a quest, promising that she would marry the suitor who successfully accomplished the task allotted to him. One lover was told to fetch Buddha's begging-bowl of stone from India; another to bring her a branch of the tree with roots of silver, stem of gold, and fruit of jewels, which grew in the fabulous island Paradise of Mount Hōrai. From the third she required a garment made of the fur of the fire-rat, supposed to be uninflammable. The fourth was to procure the shining jewel of many hues of the dragon's head, and the fifth a swallow's cowry-shell. They all failed. The maiden was then wooed by the Mikado, but equally in vain, though they remained on friendly terms and kept up an exchange of sentimental Tanka. She was eventually taken up to heaven in a flying chariot, brought by her relatives in the moon, whence it seems she had been banished to earth for an offence which she had committed.

The episode of the quest of the golden branch from Mount Hōrai may serve as a specimen of this work. Prince Kuramochi, to whom this task was allotted, having had a counterfeit branch made by cunning workmen, produces it and claims his reward. The old man asks him to tell in what manner of place he obtained this "marvellous, graceful, and lovely" branch. Prince Kuramochi thereupon relates his supposed voyage to Mount Hōrai, not, it will be observed, without some bungling and repetition natural to a man who has to make up his story as he goes along:—

"Three years ago, on the 10th day of the second month, we embarked from Osaka. We knew not what course we should take when we put out to sea, but as I felt that life would be valueless if I could not have my heart's desire fulfilled, we sailed on, entrusting ourselves to the empty winds. If we perish, thought we, there is no help for it. So long as we live, however, we will sail on until it may be we reach this island, called, it seems, Mount Hōrai. With such thoughts we rowed on over the ocean, and tossed about until we left far behind the shores of our own land. In our wanderings we were at one time like to go down even to the bottom of the sea whilst the waves were raging; at another time we were borne by the wind to an unknown country where creatures like devils came forth and tried to kill us. At one time, knowing neither the way we had come nor the course we should follow, we were almost lost upon the sea; at another our provisions became spent, and we used the roots of trees for food. Once beings hideous beyond description came and attempted to devour us, and once we sustained life by gathering shell-fish. Under a strange sky, where there was none to render us aid, we tossed about over the sea, a prey to diseases of all kinds, and leaving the ship to her own spontaneous motion, for we knew not at all the course we ought to follow. At last, when five hundred days had passed, about the hour of the dragon a mountain became faintly visible in the midst of the sea. All in the ship gazed steadfastly at it, and saw that it was a very great mountain which floated about upon the surface. Its appearance was lofty and picturesque. This, we thought, must be the mountain we are seeking. No wonder we were filled with dread at its sight. We sailed round it for two or three days. Then there came forth from amongst the hills a woman clothed like an inhabitant of heaven, and drew water in a silver vessel. When we saw her, we landed from the ship, and asked what might be the name of this mountain. The woman replied and said, 'This is Mount Hōrai.' Our joy was unbounded. 'And who,' we inquired, 'is she who tells us so?' 'My name is Hōkanruri,' she said, and of a sudden went away in among the hills.

"There seemed no way to climb this mountain, so we went round its side, where flowering trees unknown in this world were growing. Streams of golden, silver, and emerald hue flowed forth from it, spanned by bridges of all manner of jewels. Here stood shining trees, the least beautiful of which was that of which I brought away a branch, but, as it answered Kaguyahime's description, I plucked it and came away. That mountain is delightful beyond measure, and there is nothing in this world to compare with it. But when I had got the branch, I became impatient to return; so we embarked in our ship, and the wind being fair, arrived at Osaka after a voyage of over four hundred days. Urged by my great desire, I left for the capital yesterday, and now I present myself here without even changing my garments soaked with brine."

(I omit a verse of poetry in which the old man expresses his sympathy with the Prince's sufferings, and also the Prince's poetical reply.)

At this juncture a party of six men appeared in the courtyard. One of them, who held in his hand a cleft stick, with a paper in it, said: "I, Ayabe no Uchimaro, the head smith of your workshop, beg humbly to state—For more than a thousand days I and my men have laboured with all our strength and most heedful care in making for you the jewel-branch, but yet have received from you no wages. I pray you let me receive them, so that I may pay my men." So saying, he presented his paper. The old bamboo-cutter, with his head bowed down in thought, wondered what the words of this workman might mean, while the Prince, beside himself with dismay, felt as if his heart were melting within him. When Kagayuhime heard this, she said, "Bring me that paper." It read as follows:—

"My Lord the Prince,—When you shut yourself up for more than a thousand days with us mean workmen, and made us fashion the wonderful jewel-branch, you promised to reward us with official appointments. As we were lately thinking over this, we remembered that you had told us that the branch was required by the lady Kaguyahime, whose lord you were to be, and it occurred to us that in this palace we should receive our reward."

Kaguyahime, whose heart had been growing sadder and sadder as the sun went down, bloomed into smiles. She called the old man to her and said, "Truly I had thought that it was no other than the real tree of Mount Hōrai. Now that we know that it is but a sorry counterfeit, give it back to him at once."

Compared with the later literature of the Heian period, the style of the Taketori is artless and unformed, but its naïve simplicity accords well with the subject-matter, and is not without a charm of its own.

The Ise Monogatari is one of the most admired productions of the older Japanese literature. Its style is clear and concise, and far surpasses in elegance that of the Taketori Monogatari.

It consists of a number of short chapters which have little connection with each other, except that they all relate incidents in the life of a gay young nobleman of the court of Kiōto, who is usually identified with a real personage named Narihira. Narihira lived about a century before the date when the Ise Monogatari was written, but he is supposed to have left diaries on which this work was founded. What truth there may be in this it is now impossible to ascertain, nor does it much concern us to know. The long series of love affairs in which the hero is involved are more suggestive of fiction than of fact, and the most plausible explanation of the title of the work points to the same conclusion. It seems that the men of Ise, like the Cretans of old, were not remarkable for veracity, so that the author, by calling his work Tales of Ise, probably meant to convey a broad hint to his readers that they must not take everything in it for truth. A free rendering of Ise Monogatari would be Tales for the Marines—a title under which we should not expect to find a very conscientious adherence to actual fact.

It is a caprice of the author to make all his chapters begin with the word Mukashi, the Japanese equivalent of the "a long time ago" of our fairy tales. Each serves as a setting for one or two little poems of more than average merit which are put into the mouth of the hero and his numerous inamoratas.

The first few chapters relate some juvenile love adventures of the hero. The following may serve as a specimen:—

"A long time ago there dwelt a woman in the Western Pavilion which was occupied by the Empress in East Gojō.[9] Here she was visited by one who loved her deeply, though in secret. About the 10th day of the first month she concealed herself elsewhere. He learned where she was living, but as it was a place where visits were impossible, he remained plunged in melancholy. In the first month of the following year, reminded of the previous spring by the flowering of the plum-trees before his house, he went to the Western Pavilion, and stood there gazing. But gaze as he might, there was to his mind no resemblance to the scene of the year before. At last he burst into tears, and laying himself down on the shattered floor, thought longingly of the bygone time until the moon went down. He composed this poem—

"Moon? There is none.
Spring? 'Tis not the spring
Of former days:
It is I alone
Who have remained unchanged"[10]

and then took his way homeward as the night was breaking into dawn."

A Western writer would have expanded this into a sonnet at least, but within the narrow bounds of thirty-one syllables prescribed by custom to the Japanese poet, it is hardly possible to express more forcibly the blank feeling of despair at the sight of familiar scenes which are no longer brightened by the presence of the loved one. The moon and spring flowers are there before his eyes, but as they do not move him as they did formerly, he boldly denies their existence, giving emphasis by the contrast to the declaration of his own unchanging love. His subsequent adventures, it must be confessed, do not speak highly for his constancy.

After several other unfortunate love affairs, the hero found his life in Kiōto intolerable, and set out on an expedition to the east of Japan. His journey gives occasion for the introduction of a number of stanzas descriptive of the remarkable sights on the way, such as the smoking summit of Mount Asama, and the snow on Fujiyama in the height of summer. He and his people crossed the river Sumida, where Tōkio now stands, in a ferry-boat at nightfall. The dismal scene made them all feel as if they had come to the end of the world, and their thoughts went back with longing to their homes in Kiōto. There were some birds on the river known to us as "oyster-catchers," but to the Japanese by the more poetical name of Miyakodori, or "birds of the capital." Narihira exclaims—

"O thou bird of Miyako!
If such be thy name,
Come! this question I would ask thee—
Is she whom I love
Still alive, or is she no more?"

On hearing this, every one in the boat was moved to tears. But Narihira is not always so sentimental. Some of his adventures are intended to be more or less comical.

We soon after find him in one of the northern provinces, where a rustic beauty, eager to make the acquaintance of a fashionable young gentleman from Kiōto, sends him a poem (of course in thirty-one syllables) of invitation. He condescends to visit her, but takes his leave while it is still pitch-dark. As Juliet, under somewhat similar circumstances, reviles the lark, the lady, attributing his departure to the crowing of a cock, vents her displeasure in the following stanza, which still lingers in the popular memory:—

"When morning dawns
I would that a fox
Would devour that cock
Who, by his unseasonable crowing,
Has driven away my spouse!"

I have before me two of the many editions of this work. One is by the eminent scholar and critic Mabuchi, and contains much more commentary than text. The other (dated 1608) is perhaps worthy of the attention of book-collectors whose mental horizon is not bounded by Europe. It is in two volumes, block-printed on variously-tinted paper, and adorned with numerous full-page illustrations which are among the very earliest specimens of the wood-engraver's art in Japan.

The Utsubo Monogatari is conjectured to have been written by the same author as the Taketori Monogatari, and the style and matter of the first of the fourteen stories of which it consists go far to confirm this supposition, though it may perhaps be a question whether the whole collection is by the same person. It is mentioned in the Genji Monogatari and in the Makura Zōshi, works which belong to the end of the tenth or the beginning of the eleventh century, and was probably composed some fifty or sixty years earlier. No exact date can be assigned for its composition.

The style of the Utsubo Monogatari is plain and straightforward; but it has unfortunately suffered greatly at the hands of copyists and editors, and also from the ravages of time, so that the text, as we now have it, is in a very unsatisfactory condition.

The title of the first story, "Toshikage," is taken from the name of the hero. It is the best known of the series, and has been published separately, as if it were the entire work. Like the Taketori Monogatari, it belongs to the class of fiction best described as Mährchen.

The hero is a son of a member of the Fujiwara family by an Imperial Princess. In other words, he has in his veins the bluest blood in Japan. His parents purposely allow him to grow up without any teaching, but he nevertheless learns with astonishing quickness, and at seven years of age holds a correspondence in the Chinese written character with a stranger from Corea who is on a visit to Japan. The Mikado, hearing of his remarkable talent, holds an examination, at which Toshikage far surpasses all his competitors. He subsequently receives an official appointment at the court, and later, at the age of sixteen, is made Ambassador to China. Two of the three ships in which the embassy sailed are lost during a storm, and Toshikage's own vessel drives ashore in a strange country, everybody (apparently) being drowned but Toshikage himself. On landing, he puts up a prayer to the Buddhist goddess Kwannon. A black horse, ready saddled, makes his appearance, and carries him to a spot where there are three men under a sandal-tree seated on tiger-skins and playing on lutes (koto). The horse vanishes. Toshikage remains here until the following spring, when hearing in the west the sound as of men felling trees, he resolves to follow it. Taking a courteous leave of his three hosts, he sets out on his quest. Seas and rivers, mountains and valleys are crossed, but it is not until the spring of the next year but one that he arrives at his destination. Here in a valley he sees a company of Asura (demons of Indian myth) engaged in cutting up an immense kiri-tree (Paullownia Imperialis) which they had felled. These demons "had hair like upright sword-blades, their faces burned like flames of fire, their feet and hands resembled spades and mattocks, their eyes gleamed like chargers of burnished metal." Toshikage is in danger of faring ill at their hands, when a boy comes down from the sky, riding on a dragon, amid a storm of thunder and lightning and rain, bearing a golden tablet, with instructions to the Asura to let him go, and to give him part of the tree they had felled, so that he might make it into lutes. He makes thirty lutes and goes his way, the lutes being carried for him by a whirlwind, which arises opportunely.

After other adventures of an equally wonderful kind, Toshikage returns to Japan and makes his report to the Mikado. He retires into private life, marries, and has one daughter. He and his wife die, leaving the daughter in great poverty. She lives in a secluded spot in the suburbs of Kiōto, where she is one day visited by a youth who was accompanying his father to worship at the shrine of Kamo. On his return home the next morning, his father, enraged at him for giving his parents so great anxiety by his disappearance, forbids him in future to leave his sight for a moment. When, after some years, he is able to visit the place where his lady-love dwelt, the house had completely disappeared.

Meanwhile Toshikage's daughter gives birth to a child, who, like many of the heroes of Chinese and Japanese romance, is a prodigy of precocious talent and filial devotion. At the age of five he sustains his mother by the fish which he catches, and at a later time brings her fruit and roots from the mountains. Finding, however, that this obliges him to leave her too much alone, he seeks a place in the woods where he can lodge her, and finds a great hollow[11] tree, which he thought would serve his purpose. It is already the home of a family of bears. They are about to devour the intruder, when he remonstrates with them as follows:—

"Stay a little and do not destroy my life, for I am a filial child, the support of my mother, who lives all alone in a ruined house, without parents, or brothers, or any one to attend upon her. As I could do nothing for her in the village where we live, I come to this mountain to get her fruit and roots. Having to climb up lofty peaks, and to descend into deep valleys, I leave home in the morning and return when it is dark. This is a source of great distress to us. I therefore thought of bringing her to this hollow tree, not knowing it to be the dwelling of such a king of the mountain. . . . If there is any part of me which is not useful for my mother's support, I will sacrifice it to you. But without feet how could I go about? Without hands how could I gather fruit or dig up roots for her? Without a mouth where would the breath of life find a passage? Without a breast where would my heart find a lodgment? In this body there is no part which is not of service except the lobes of my ears and the tip of my nose. These I offer to the king of the mountain."

This discourse moves the bears to tears, and they at once give up the hollow tree to him and seek a home elsewhere.

The mother and son live here for many years, being supplied with food by a number of monkeys. They are ultimately discovered by the father, who comes here on a hunting expedition. He builds them a fine mansion in Kiōto, in which they all live happily ever after.

The Hamamatsu Chiunagon Monogatari is a story of a Japanese noble who goes to China and has an amour with the Empress. He brings back to Japan with him a child who was the fruit of their union. The author is unknown. It belongs to the second half of the tenth century.

The story called Ochikubo Monogatari also belongs to the second half of the tenth century. Mabuchi would assign it to the period from 967 to 969. Its author is said to be one Minamoto no Shitagaü, a small official and famous scholar, who flourished in the reigns of the Mikados Murakami, Reizei, and Yenyū. The name Ochikubo means "underground cavity." The heroine, a young lady of noble birth, is confined in a room underground by her step-mother. She has a very miserable time, until by the help of a female servant she makes the acquaintance of a young nobleman, who assists her to escape. Of course they are married and live happily ever after.

A work named Sumiyoshi Monogatari is mentioned in the Makura Zōshi. Critics, however, are agreed that the book now known by that name is a forgery of a later date. It is also a story of a wicked step-mother (a favourite character of far-eastern fiction), and of the events which led in due course to her condign punishment.

The author of the Yamato Monogatari is really unknown, though it has been ascribed by some to Shigeharu, a son of Narihira, the hero of the Ise Monogatari, and by others to the Mikado Kwazan. It is an imitation of the Ise Monogatari, but is much inferior to its model, and the style is wanting in clearness and conciseness. It is a collection of stories adorned with Tanka after the manner of the earlier work. There is, however, no connecting link between them. The following is one of the best known of the series:—

"A long time ago there dwelt a maid in the province of Tsu. She was wooed by two lovers, one of whom, Mubara by name, lived in the same province; the other, called Chinu, belonged to the province of Idzumi.

"Now these youths were of like age, and were also alike in face, form, and stature. The maid thought of accepting the one who loved her best, but here, too, no difference could be found between them. When night fell they both came together, and when they made her presents, the presents of both were alike. Neither of them could be said to surpass the other, so that the maiden was sore distressed in mind. If their devotion had been of vulgar sort she would have refused them both. But as for days and months the one and the other presented themselves at her door, and showed their love in all manner of ways, their attentions made her utterly wretched. Both persisted in coming with their like gifts of all kinds, notwithstanding that they were not accepted. Her parents said to her, 'It is a pity that month after month and year after year should pass in this unseemly manner. It is wearisome to listen to the laments of these men, and all to no purpose. If you married one, the other's love would cease.' The girl replied, 'I think so too, but I am sorely perplexed by the sameness of the men's love. What am I to do?' Now in those days people lived in tents on the bank of the river Ikuta. Accordingly the parents sent for the two lovers and said to them, 'Our child is sorely perplexed by the equality of the love shown by you two gentlemen. But we intend to-day, in one way or another, to come to a decision. One of you is a stranger from a distant place; the other, a dweller here, has taken trouble beyond measure. The conduct of both of you has our warm sympathy.' Both heard this with respectful joy. 'Now, what we proposed to say to you,' continued the parents, 'was this: aim your arrows at one of the water-fowl floating on this river. We will give our daughter to the one who hits it.' 'An excellent plan,' said they. But when they shot at it, one hit it on the head and the other near the tail. Thereupon the maiden, more profoundly embarrassed than ever, exclaimed—

'Weary of life,
My body I will cast away
Into the river Ikuta,
In the land of Tsu.
Ikuta! [12] to me a name and nothing more!'

"With these words she plunged into the river which flowed below the tent. Amid the frantic cries of the parents, the two lovers forthwith leaped into the stream at the same place. One seized her by the foot, the other took hold of her arm, and both died along with her. The parents, wild with grief, took up her body and buried it with tears and lamentations. The parents of the lovers also came and built tombs on each side of the sepulchre of the maiden. But when the time of burial came, the parents of the youth of the land of Tsu objected, saying: 'That a man of the same province should be buried in the same place is but right and proper, but how can it be allowed that a stranger should intrude upon our soil?' So the parents of the Idzumi wooer brought over in ships earth from the province of Idzumi, and at length buried their son. The maiden's tomb is in the middle, and those of her lovers on each side, as may be seen unto this day."

The present writer once made a pious pilgrimage to these tombs, which are still in existence not far from the treaty port of Kobe. He was not a little surprised to find that they were immense tumuli, certainly the sepulchres of much more exalted personages than the heroes of the above tale. Not only so, but the so-called lovers' tombs are a mile away on each side from that of the fair lady for whom they died. On one of them, sad to say, there was growing a thriving crop of cabbages, planted by some irreverent, or more likely ignorant, Japanese. The Ikuta river must have greatly changed since the days of this story. It now sends to the sea a volume of water about equal to that of the stream which waters the public gardens at Bournemouth, and where, needless to say, death by drowning is impossible.

  1. Dew with the Japanese poets suggests tears, and is associated with grief.
  2. A kind of grass.
  3. "May our lord
    Live for a thousand ages,
    Until the pebbles
    Become a rock
    Overgrown with moss."
  4. "Mount Tsukuba [which has two peaks]
    Has a shadow
    On this side and on that,
    But the shadow of Our Lord
    Has no shadow to excel it."
  5. Both the crane and the fir are, in Japan, emblems of long life.
  6. Shinto and Buddhist gods.
  7. The strips of white paper seen in Shinto shrines, and also called gohei.
  8. Translated by Mr. F. V. Dickins in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, January 1887.
  9. The city of Kiōto is divided into sections by parallel streets somewhat in the fashion of the "Avenues" of New York. Gojō (fifth column) is one of these. It is the principal shopping street of Kiōto at the present day.
  10. The following is an attempt to imitate as nearly as possible the metrical movement of the original, which, however, has no rhyme:—
    "Moon? There is none. "Tsuki ya! aranu:
    Where are spring's wonted flowers? Haru ya! mukashi no
    I see not one. Haru naranu:
    All else is changed, but I Waga mi hitotsu wa
    Love on unalteringly." Moto no mi ni shite."
  11. "Hollow" is in Japanese utsubo, whence the name of the whole work.
  12. Ikuta means "living field."