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Other titles in the Kodansha's Illustrated Japanese Classics series:

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Preface by Donald Keene

Taketori Monogatari (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter) was probably written late in the ninth or early in the tenth century. Mention at the end of the tale that smoke still rose from Mount Fuji , a sign it was an active volcano, is an important clue to the date of composition, for we know that by 905 A.D. the mountain had ceased to emit smoke. Regardless of exactly when the tale was first set down on paper, it is the oldest surviving Japanese work of fiction; The Tale of Genji (written about 1010) referred to it as the "ancestor of all romances."

Many theories have been published about the authorship, but they are little more than guesses. The names of five suitors, resembling those of members of the Japanese court of the eighth century, have suggested to some scholars that the The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter was conceived of as a satire directed against a certain court faction, but this is not how the work was read in later centuries. Today it is thought of mainly as a children's story, and Kaguya-hime, the heroine, looks in the illustrations as lovable as Snow-White or Cinderella; there is no suggestions of the heartlessness that is perhaps her most memorable feature

Elements in the narrative recall similar tales from other parts of the world. The tests to which the suitors are subjected resemble the riddles asked by the icy Princess Turandot, or we may recall the three caskets among which the suitors had to choose in The Merchant of Venice. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the tests Kaguya-hime imposes is the humor with which they are related. The second suitor's lyrical description of the magical island of Horai, where he allegedly found the jeweled branch, is interrupted by the mundane demands of the artisans who actually made it. Again, the fourth suitor, at the end of his unsuccessful quest, urges his men to stay away from the vicinity of the house of "that thief of a Kaguya-hime." Such a characterization of the heroine takes us from the realm of the children's story.

Many texts of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter have come down, each with its share of variant. The names of the characters differ somewhat from text to text or even within the same text. The differences are not confined to names: towards the end, when the old man is attempting to prevent Kaguya-hime from being taken off to the moon, he urges his men to shoot anything they see in the sky, no matter how small, and they assure him that they will shoot down "even a mosquito." But other texts mention not a mosquito but a bat; perhaps some scribe thought it was a bit too farfetched for anyone to shoot down a mosquito, and changed the word to a larger flying object.

There are other problems in the text. Near the beginning the Bamboo Cutter says of himself that he is over seventy years old, but towards the end (twenty years later) we are told that he has just turned fifty. It seems likely that there was a copyist's error, but some scholars, taking the figure given at the end as the Bamboo cutter's real age, have suggested that twenty years earlier, when he was only thirty, he may have been one of the suitors for Kaguya-hime's hand. Such problems in the text should not, however, prevent us from enjoying the storyteller's art.

About thirty-five years ago I first published a translation of The Tales of the Bamboo Cutter in the journal Monumenta Nipponica. A few years later-in the summer of 1965-a Japanese publisher conceived the plan of a book that would incorporate my translation, the translation into modern Japanese by the great novelist Yasunari Kawabata, and illustrations by one of the outstanding contemporary Japanese painters. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to revise my translation.

About this time, I visited an exhibition of kirie (paper-cut pictures) by Masayuki Miyata, and discovered that he had actually completed series of works illustrating The Tale if the Bamboo Cutter. I was delighted that at last it would be possible to realize the project first conceived so many years before. There were still further delays, but at last the book has materialized. It combines the work of unknown Japanese writer of over a thousand years ago, the translation by a master of modem Japanese, illustrations by an outstanding artist, and a translation by an American who has devoted his life to the study of Japanese literature.


A retelling of the early Heian-period prose work about a supernatural being found by a bamboo cutter and brought up as his daughter. He urges his "daughter" to marry but she sets fantastic quests to her suiters. All fail. Eventually she reveals she is from the Palace of the Moon and departs.


An Oriental classic retold by a Nobel Prize winner, with modern illustrations. An early Helan-period (794-1185) prose work about a supernatural being found by a bamboo cutter and brought up as his daughter. Text is presented in bilingual Japanese-English format alongside original, full-color kiri-e paper cut-out illustrations.

About the Author

Modern rewriting: YASUNARI KAWABATA (1899-1972)

Born in the city of Oaka, he attended Ichiko in Tokyo, and graduated from the Department of Literature at Tokyo Imperial University. He made his debut into literary circles when Kikuchi Kan praised the fresh sensibility of his story "Shokonsai ikkei" ("A view of the Yasukuni Festival"), when it was published in the sixth issue of the literary journal Shinshicho. With Yokomitsu Riichi and Kon Toko in 1924 he set up the literary journal Bungei jidai. These writers drew attention for their fresh, innovative writing, and they were named the Shinkankakuha ("The New Sensiblility Group").

Kawabata is known for his realist pieces like "Jurokusai no nikki" (Diary of My Sixteenth Year, a diary of his middle-school days published in 1925), and "Izu no Odoriko" (The Izu Dancer, 1926), but he also wrote a lot of highly poetic pieces like "Nijunen" (Twenty years, 1925), "Tataku ko" (1928), and mod-ernist works like Asakusa kurenaidan (Scarlet Gang of Asakusa, 1929-30). With the new psychological novel Suisho genso (Quartz Illusions, 1931), his works became more nihilistic, a tendency which only grew deeper with works like Kinju (Birds and Beasts, 193'3) and Niji (Rainbow, 1934). In his most famous novel Yukiguni (Snow Country, 1935-47) his writing dealt with figures who struggled their best to survive.

Kawabata became the Chairman of the Japan Pen Club in 1948. In 1957 he chaired the Conference of the International Pen Club in Tokyo. In 1961 he was awarded a Cultural Medal, and in 1968 the Nobel Prize for Literature. However, by this time his health and spirits were impaired by sleeping medicine, and in 1972, at the height of acclaim, he killed himself in his study using gas.

Translation: DONALD KEENE (1922- )

Donald Keene, an American scholar of Japanese literature, was born in New York in 1922. He graduated from Columbia University where he first began the study of Japanese in 1941. During World War II he served in the U.S. Navy as a translator and interpreter of Japanese. After the war he returned to academic life. Form 1948 to 1953 he taught Japanese at Cambridge University. He received the Ph.D. degree from Columbia University in 1951 with his study of The Battles of Coxinga, the play by Chikamatsu Monzaemon.

He returned to Columbia University in 1955 after two years' study at Kyoto University, and he taught there until 1992, when he retired as University Professor Emeritus. His publications ranging in time from a study of the Kojiki to discussions of contemporary literature, has increased appreciation of Japanese literature in other countries.

His honors include the Kikuchi Kan Prize, awarded in 1962, the Order of the Rising Sun, Third Class (1975), the Japan Foundation Award (1984), the Tokyo Metropolitan Prize (1987), and Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize (1991). He is a foreign member of the Japan Academy... He is also a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. His book Travelers of a Hundred Ages, Published in 1984, received both the Yomiuri Literature Prize and the Shincho Grand Prize. His considerable research into Japanese literature and contribution to its introduction outside Japanese was recognized with the Asahi Prize in 1998. Other publications include the four-volume history of Japanese literature, consisting of Seeds in the Heart, World Within Walls, and the two volumes of Dawn to the West, as well as numerous translations of both classical and modern works.

Since his retirement from Columbia University he has been active as a writer and lecturer.

Illustrations: MASAYUKI MIYATA (1926-1997)

Masayuki Miyata was born in Akasaka, Tokyo in 1926. He was discovered by the distinguished writer Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, and he went on to create his own distinct realm in kiri-e (cut-out illustrations). His cut-out pictures, made with mere sheets of paper and a cutting blade, and their exceptional accessibility to people from all countries, have won admiration. In 1981, his work Japanese Pieta was selected for the modem religious art collection in the Vatican Museum-he is only the fourth Japanese artist so honored this century. In 1995, the bi-centennial anniversary of the UN, Miyata was selected from contemporary artists worldwide to be the UN's official artist, the first Japanese to hold the post. His masterpiece, Red Fuji, was reproduced in special limited edition in 184 countries around the globe. Miyata continued to be actively engaged in international art circles as the most prominent kiri-e artist in Japan until his death in 1997.

His representative works include illustrations for Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to Oku), Taketori monogatari (Tale of a Bamboo-Cutter), Man'yo koi-uta (Poems of Love from the Man'yoshu), and Hana no Ran (Passion in Disarray).

Table of Contents

Kaguya-hime's childhood — The suitors — The stone begging-bowl of the Buddha — The jewelled branch from Paradise — The robe made of fire-rat fur — The jewel in the dragon's neck — The easy-delivery charm of the swallows — The imperial hunt — The celestial robe of feathers.

Product Details

Keene, Donald
Miyata, Masayuki
null, Yasunari
null, Donald
Kawabata, Yasunari
Keene, Donald
Kodansha USA
Tokyo ;
Fairy Tales, Folklore & Mythology
Literature/English | World Literature | Asia
Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology
Literature-A to Z
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
full color kiri-e illus.
5.8 x 9 x 0.7 in 0.863 lb

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Humanities » Mythology » Folklore and Storytelling

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
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$ In Stock
Product details 180 pages Kodansha International (JPN) - English 9784770023292 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , A retelling of the early Heian-period prose work about a supernatural being found by a bamboo cutter and brought up as his daughter. He urges his "daughter" to marry but she sets fantastic quests to her suiters. All fail. Eventually she reveals she is from the Palace of the Moon and departs.
"Synopsis" by , An Oriental classic retold by a Nobel Prize winner, with modern illustrations. An early Helan-period (794-1185) prose work about a supernatural being found by a bamboo cutter and brought up as his daughter. Text is presented in bilingual Japanese-English format alongside original, full-color kiri-e paper cut-out illustrations.
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