Myths and Legends of Japan

January 20, 2012

By F. Hadland Davis
Reviewed by Rebecca E. M.
Rated 3 out of 5 stars

The Miraculous Chestnut: The Princess Hinako- Nai- Shinno begged that chestnuts should be brought to her ; but she took but one, bit it, and threw it away. It took root and on all of the chestnuts that it eventually bore there were the marks of the Princess’s small teeth. In hououring her death the chestnut had expressed its devotion in this strange way.”

Myths and Legends of Japan is a collection of short tales of Japan. It contains many interesting stories that are sorted into chapters such as “The period of the gods”, “heroes and warriors”, “Buddha legends”, and “Fox legends”. Those are only four chapters out of thirty- one chapters in the book. The other chapters range from a variety of subjects, from gardens to art to even legends of fans. It tells the significance of such insignificant little objects in Japanese culture.

Many of the stories within this book can be looked on as quite silly. They are interesting and informative and give the reader a look inside ancient Japanese culture and why the Japanese culture is what it is today. It is in fact a very interesting collection of stories to read. Although pretty much every story has, in some way or another, something to do with a beautiful maiden, in one case the maiden was in fact a fox, and in another, a child of the moon, being rescued by a brave warrior or citizen or being fawned over by many an admirer. Myths and Legends of Japan  is written by an overly Japanese enthusiastic Englishman. I greatly enjoyed reading the stories. But the commentary by the author I found to be rather tedious. Mainly all the author says is just about how superior Japan is and the author writes in a way that portrays him as a smart alec. He frequently uses the word “Nippon” when referring to Japan because “Nippon” is the Japanese word for Japan. I personally don’t like the way the author writes. But the stories aren’t written by the author, they are translated from the original Japanese to English. Although some parts aren’t as well translated as others. For example, in one story Susa-no-o, upon marrying a beautiful maiden wrote the following verse:

“Many clouds arise,

On all sides, a manifold fence,

To receive within it the spouses,

They form a manifold fence-

Ah! That manifold fence!”

I suspect there may be either a translating error, or there is a much deeper meaning that I simply do not understand. Also,  I think that if the book was meant to be taken completely seriously (which I do not doubt that it was not meant to be taken seriously), the names, at least certain names could have been better not translated into English because you end up with names such as “ foot stroke elder” and “hand stroke elder”

Overall, I found the book to be quite interesting. I enjoyed reading the stories very much although the authors commentary was not to my taste. If you enjoy reading stories such as the original Hans Christian Andersen stories you would enjoy reading the stories in this book. Also if you are interested in the Japanese culture and history, the stories within this volume would appeal to you because they are the sources of several common expressions and superstitions of the Japanese people.

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