Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, The

Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, The
(Taketori monogatari)
(ca. 900–920)
   The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is the first extant Japanese monogatari, or work of literary fiction. Its precise date of composition is unknown: Though some scholars say it cannot be later than 909, others claim it may be as late as 920.Most agree, however, that the current text dates from around 960. Long recognized for its primacy, the tale is referred to in the classic TALE OF GENJI as the parent and first to come of all tales. However, some changes may have occurred from the earlier version of the story, because there are allusions in The Tale of Genji to incidents in the tale that do not occur in the surviving text.Written in kana majiri (a combination of ideographs from the Chinese and native Japanese syllabary), the text displays the influence of Chinese literature as well as Buddhist scriptures. The text includes 15 waka (native Japanese poems), beginning the convention of including waka in narratives, a convention that became typical in future monogatari, in particular The Tale of Genji itself. The story of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter follows a fairy tale–like plot. Indeed, some scholars believe that there was a “Bamboo Cutter” setsuwa (or folklore motif). Others, however, believe that the tale came into Japanese from Chinese, and point to other versions of the story popular throughout Asia.
   The tale is not really the story of the Bamboo Cutter,who provides an opening and closing for the narrative. The real protagonist is the girl Kaguyahime. As the story opens, the old Bamboo Cutter and his wife are childless, but one day he discovers, hidden in a bamboo stalk, a tiny girl some three inches tall. He brings her home, and within three months she has matured into a full-grown woman. She is the most beautiful woman in the land, and her reputation spreads so that she is pursued by various suitors. Kaguya-hime resists the idea of marriage, until the Bamboo Cutter convinces her that it is customary for men and women to be married. She relents, and decides to give the suitors a chance. But she will only marry one who can accomplish an impossible task that she will assign. Five suitors agree to accept the challenge. Two of the suitors are princes and three are highranking noblemen. The first prince must find and bring back the original stone bowl of the Buddha. But the prince, unenthusiastic about traveling to India on what was sure to be a fruitless quest, attempts to pass off a counterfeit bowl on Kaguyahime, which she immediately recognizes. The second prince is assigned to bring back a gold and silver branch from the Taoist land of paradise. He is more successful in fooling Kaguya-hime, and nearly gets away with it, but he is interrupted in the midst of describing the hardships he endured on his quest by the craftsmen he hired to manufacture the branch, looking for payment.
   The last three suitors more honestly attempt to accomplish the tasks set for them, but with no more success than the princes. The first nobleman is sent to obtain the fireproof hide of a firemouse, but is tricked into buying a false fur. The second nobleman is sent to obtain a valuable jade from around the neck of a dragon, but a storm at sea makes him seasick and he fails to find the dragon—he returns home to be mocked by his other wives. The last suitor is assigned to retrieve a priceless shell from a swallow’s nest on the side of a cliff, but finds only bird droppings in the nest, faints, and falls to his death. Thus all five suitors fail, but Kaguya-hime is not disappointed, since she had no desire to be married in the first place. After the suitors’ fiasco, the emperor himself seeks Kaguya-hime’s hand, but she is unmoved by his suit. Seeking the Bamboo Cutter’s support in the matter, the emperor promises the old man a court position if he can persuade his adopted daughter to accept the sovereign. But when he comes to visit her and press his suit, the young maid turns herself into a shadow and disappears. The emperor is forced to give up his pursuit of her. After three more years, Kaguya-hime begins to act strangely, spending much of her time gazing up at the moon. She reveals to the Bamboo Cutter the truth about her origins: She has come, she says, from the palace of the moon people, and her time on earth is nearly over. Her people will soon come to take her back. The Bamboo Cutter refuses to let her go, and vows to fight off the moon people when they come to fetch her. The emperor sends a company of soldiers to help him keep Kaguyahime on earth, but when the moon people arrive in a flying chariot, no one can prevent them from taking Kaguya-hime. She offers a jar of the elixir of immortality to her adopted parents, but they refuse to taste any of it, saying that life has no appeal without their daughter. The moon people have brought a robe of feathers to garb her for her ascent into the sky—a robe that will cause her to forget all ties to the earth. Before donning the robe, however, the young maid pauses long enough to write a final poem to the emperor. Then she slips on the robe and is gone. The tale ends when the Bamboo Cutter and his wife send the elixir of life to the emperor, who refuses it because he can never see Kaguya-hime again, and orders it to be burnt on the top of Mount Fuji—which explains the smoke that perpetually comes from the mountain. There are many unanswered questions regarding The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. Who was the original audience of the tale? It seems likely to have been a noble one, and a number of candidates have been suggested as its author, but none has won wide scholarly support.Was the author’s intent to satirize the aristocrats of the HEIAN court? Or was it simply to tell a fairy tale? The tale is indeed fantastic, but there are concrete realistic details in the descriptions of the suitors. The author seems to have been well-educated, but the tale is told in a simple, straightforward style. The Bamboo Cutter himself is simple and rather foolish, but sympathetic. Kaguya-hime, however, is a cold and unfeeling protagonist,who elicits little sympathy. But the most remarkable thing about The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is its tight structure and its concise narrative. The plot follows the logical, cause-effect organization that many medieval Japanese tales lack, which makes it entertaining reading for a Western audience.
   ■ Kato Shuicho. A History of Japanese Literature: From the Man-yōshu to Modern Times. New abridged ed. Translated and edited by Don Sanderson. Richmond, U.K.: Curzon Press, 1997.
   ■ Keene, Donald. Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century. Vol. 1 of History of Japanese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
   ■ Miner, Earl, Hiroko Odagiri, and Robert E. Morrell. The Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985.
   ■ The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. Translated by Donald Keene. Japan: Kodansha International, 1998.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

Игры ⚽ Поможем написать реферат

Look at other dictionaries:

  • The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter — (Japanese: 竹取物語; Taketori Monogatari ) is a 10th century Japanese folktale, also known as The Tale of Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語, Kaguya hime no Monogatari ). It is considered the oldest extant Japanese narrative, [… …   Wikipedia

  • Bamboo — For other uses, see Bamboo (disambiguation). Bamboo plant Bamboo forest in Kyoto, Japan Scientific classification Kingdom …   Wikipedia

  • Takefuji Bamboo — is a women s Volleyball team based in Kitakatsushika District Sugito Town, Saitama, Japan. It plays in V.Premier League. The club was founded in 2001.The team logo is based on Kaguya hime, principal character in Japanese mythology The Tale of the …   Wikipedia

  • History of literature — The history of literature is the historical development of writings in prose or poetry which attempt to provide entertainment, enlightenment, or instruction to the reader/hearer/observer, as well as the development of the literary techniques used …   Wikipedia

  • History of science fiction — The literary genre of science fiction is diverse and since there is little consensus of definition among scholars or devotees, its origin is an open question. Some offer works like the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh as the primal texts of science… …   Wikipedia

  • Silver Millennium — The Silver Millennium, a fictional kingdom in the Sailor Moon metaseries, lies on the moon. It provides a setting for the past lives and future selves of most of the series major characters, and functions as a major driving force behind both plot …   Wikipedia

  • Japanese literature — Introduction       the body of written works produced by Japanese authors in Japanese or, in its earliest beginnings, at a time when Japan had no written language, in the Chinese classical language.       Both in quantity and quality, Japanese… …   Universalium

  • Murasaki Shikibu — For other uses, see Murasaki (disambiguation). Murasaki shown writing at her desk at Ishiyama dera inspired by the Moon, ukiyo e by Suzuki Harunobu, c. 1767 Murasaki Shikibu (紫 …   Wikipedia

  • Japan — This article is about the country. For other uses, see Japan (disambiguation) …   Wikipedia

  • Big Bird in Japan — Infobox Film name = Big Bird in Japan image size = caption = director = Jon Stone producer = Sonia Rosario writer = Jon Stone narrator = starring = music = Tony Geiss Carol Hall Dick Lieb cinematography = editing = Ilene Merenstein distributor =… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”