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The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter [Paperback]

By Yasunari Kawabata, Donald Keene (Translator) & Masayuki Miyata (Illustrator)
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Item description for The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter by Yasunari Kawabata, Donald Keene & Masayuki Miyata...

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.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   180
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 6.25" Height: 9.25"
Weight:   1 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Sep 16, 1998
Publisher   Kodansha International
ISBN  4770023294  
ISBN13  9784770023292  

Availability  0 units.

More About Yasunari Kawabata, Donald Keene & Masayuki Miyata

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Yasunari Kawabata was born in Osaka in 1899. In 1968 he became the first Japanese writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. One of Japan s most distinguished novelists, he published his first stories while he was still in high school, graduating from Tokyo Imperial University in 1924. His short story The Izu Dancer, first published in 1925, appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1955. Kawabata authored numerous novels, including Snow Country (1956), which cemented his reputation as one of the preeminent voices of his time, as well as Thousand Cranes (1959), The Sound of the Mountain (1970), The Master of Go (1972), and Beauty and Sadness (1975). He served as the chairman of the P.E.N. Club of Japan for several years and in 1959 he was awarded the Goethe-medal in Frankfurt. Kawabata died in 1972."

Yasunari Kawabata was born in 1899 and died in 1972.

Yasunari Kawabata has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Vintage International

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Classics
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Classics
3Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary
4Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Fairy Tales
5Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > World Literature > Japanese
6Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > World Literature > Mythology > General

Reviews - What do customers think about The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter?

Clearing the Bamboo  Apr 27, 2007
There's some confusion in the earlier reviews. Keene has translated the early 10th-century Japanese tale (with the original on facing pages), NOT Kawabata's modern version, which is printed in back in Japanese (no translation). I also have to take issue with the this site reviewer's use of "heartlessness" to describe the main character. She's not of this earth, and consequently can't marry anyone: her actions are taken to spare the feelings of others, not out of heartlessness. (She's got plenty of heart for her adopted parents.) The tale is a wonderful example of early Japanese literature, and the art is gorgeous. Highly recommended.
A subtle blend of story and art  Feb 12, 2002
This is an elegant package. The story is a classic Japanese folktale interpreted by one of Japan's greatest writers. A cautionary tale about love between humans and spirits, it is a well paced story, calm and quiet like a new moon. The text is balanced with the original Japanese script on one side and the English translation on the other. Interspersed though out are beautiful paper-cut illustrations. "Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" is very much a piece of book art.

The only drawback of this edition is the size. It is small, and would have benefited from a hard-backed coffee table edition. As it is, it is too fragile to be a child's book.

Beautiful  May 27, 2001
This is a wonderful story beautifully told. The excellent translation brings across Kawabata's style. The pictures are gorgeous. It is short, but wonderful.
Wonderful  Sep 7, 2000
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter was my introduction to Kawabata and I loved it. Yasunari Kawabata was the first Japanese writer to be honored with a Nobel Prize. Taketori Monogatari (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter) is an extremely old Japanese story, credited to around the late ninth or early tenth century under disputed authorship.

Donald Keene has done a wonderful job of translating Kawabata. This is a fast paced fable beautiflly presented in an oblong book. Physically it is one of the most attractive books I have ever purchased.

This translation of Tale of the Bamboo Cutter had been delayed by twenty years before the translator Keene came across a brilliant series of paintings done by Miyata Masayuki of the same story. The elements finally came together to create one of the most beautifully presented books I've come across.

The book is 176 pages long, presented with Japanese and English on opposite pages. Don't expect a long read here, perhaps only a day or so's worth, but you won't be disappointed. This is truly a beautiful story that I hope you, like me, will return to from time to time to enjoy.


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