A History of Japanese Literature/Book 3/Chapter 6

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The author of the Sagoromo Monogatari was a court official named Daini no Sammi, the daughter of Murasaki no Shikibu. Her work, a love-story of considerable length, is an obvious imitation of the Genji Monogatari, but much inferior both in style and matter. It is believed to have been written about A.D. 1040.

The Sarashina Nikki, by a daughter of Sugawara no Takasuye, a descendant in the sixth generation of the famous statesman Sugawara no Michizane, was completed in the reign of the Emperor Go Rei-zei (1046–1068). It is the record of a journey from Shimōsa to Kiōto by the Tōkaidō in 1021, and of a second journey from Kiōto to Sarashina, in the province of Shinano, some years later. It is written in a vein of melancholy sentiment, and is plentifully adorned with doleful Tanka.

Nothing is known as to the date and authorship of the Torikayebaya Monogatari. It is believed to have been written subsequently to the Sagoromo, and would therefore belong to the middle or end of the eleventh century. The Torikayebaya Monogatari is a story of the difficulties experienced by a nobleman in the education of his two children, a boy and a girl. The boy is fond of feminine pursuits and amusements, and the girl just the reverse, much to the annoyance of their father, who used frequently to exclaim, "Torikayebaya!" that is, "Oh! if I could only exchange them."[1] All he can do is to have the boy dressed in girl's clothes and treated accordingly, while the girl is brought up as a boy. The results are unsatisfactory from a moral point of view.

The author of the collection of stories entitled Uji Monogatari was a court noble named Minamoto no Takakuni, better known as Uji Dainagon, from his place of residence and rank. He died A.D. 1077, at an advanced age. Being a fat man, and greatly disliking the hot weather, he used to retire for the summer season to Uji, a village not far from Kiōto, on the bank of the river which flows out of Lake Biwa. Here he built a little tea-house on the roadside near his country-seat, where tea was offered to the passers-by. They were then invited to tell stories, which the Dainagon, sitting behind a screen, took down from their mouths. Most of the stories so collected are obviously fictitious; but, true or false, they have a special interest, inasmuch as they present a fuller and livelier picture of the lives and ideas of the middle and lower classes than most other works of this period.

As might be expected from the manner of its compilation, the Uji Monogatari contains a large element of folk-lore. The style is easy and unpretentious. Thirty of the sixty thin volumes of which it consists are assigned to Japanese stories, the remainder containing tales of Chinese or Indian origin. Probably not all of these were collected in the manner above described, and a certain proportion, it is believed, have been added by later editors.

The following outlines of a few may give some idea of the general character of this collection:—

A painter named Kawanari has an intimate friend, an architect and engineer called Hida no Takumi. The latter, having built a small square pavilion, invites his friend to enter it. The painter approaches the south door, when by some mechanical contrivance it shuts in his face. When he tries to go in by the west door, it closes and the north door opens. And so on. In revenge for the practical joke thus played on him, Kawanari paints on a screen the picture of a corpse so loathsome and repulsive, that when Hida no Takumi is made to approach it unawares he starts back in horror and rushes out into the garden.

A Buddhist monk, a renowned player of Go, is invited to visit a mysterious lady. With a screen interposed between them, they play a game which ends in the total massacre of the monk's men. The lady is never heard of again, and is presumed to have been a supernatural being.

A professor of magic, by some mistake in his ceremonies, excites the wrath of the infernal demons. They pursue him. He gets off his horse and lets it go home by itself, while he hides among the sheaves in a rice-field by the way. The demons follow the tracks of the horse's feet, and the magician escapes, having learnt from the conversation of his pursuers as they pass his hiding-place how to circumvent them when they renew their attack upon him.

A professor of magic goes to perform a ceremony of purification from evil influences. His little boy, who accompanies him, by an inward gift is able to see a number of devils, invisible to the ordinary eye, carrying away the offerings of food made to them. He afterwards becomes a great magician.

A guitar, a valued heirloom of the Mikado, disappears mysteriously. One of the courtiers who is a great musician traces it by its sound, and finds that it has been purloined by a devil. On its being explained to the devil that the guitar is a much-prized possession of the Mikado, he at once returns it.

A young woman who is urged by her parents to take a second husband, fortifies her refusal to do so by the example of a swallow which had built its nest in their house, and whose mate had been taken from it. It goes away in the autumn, and when it comes back the following summer it is still alone.

Among other fictitious Monogatari which have come down to us from this period, there may be mentioned the Idzumi Shikibu Monogatari, the Ima Monogatari, the Tsutsumi Chiunagon Monogatari, the Akiyo no Naga-monogatari, and the Matsuho Monogatari, which, although all useful for the study of the state of society at this time, do not present any special features of literary interest. Of many others the names only have reached us.

  1. The reader may think that this is a great deal to express by the one word, "Tori-kaye-ba-ya!" It is literally "Take-change-if-oh!" Note the absence of personal pronouns, to the use of which the genius of the Japanese language is averse.