The world evoked by JAPANESE TALES is both curious and absorbing, titillating and eerie. It is a realm in which foxy young women may well be actual foxes in disguise, a place where would-be Immortals can either soar skillfully or fall miserably into the bushes when trying to fly, a time when the onset of dusk spells danger -- natural or supernatural--for many a weary traveler.
The tales told here are taken from several medieval collections whose compilers and readers “were highly literate, and particularly conscious of history,” as editor and translator Royall Tyler puts it. They include legends and popular tales, stories of the court and its world, and stories with Buddhist topics. Although Tyler has grouped his 220 selections into sets with titles that range from “Surprises” to “Snakes,” he readily admits that “most stories could easily have been put under other headings.”
This is a book to be dipped into and then read straight through to be sure of not missing a single vignette. Many of the stories are quite brief, but others are well fleshed out, and all have some twist or turn that leaves the reader intrigued. “Japanese writing has always avoided snappy endings,” Tyler writes--which is a relief after the all-too-abrupt style of many modern American short stories. Tyler’s excellent introduction explains many other nuances as well and, together with the beautiful design of the volume, makes JAPANESE TALES even richer than it otherwise would be. For anyone interested in Japan, the weird, or the wonderful, JAPANESE TALES is a sure bet.