Tales of Times Now Past is a translation of 62 outstanding tales
freshly selected from Konjaku monogatari shu, a Japanese anthology
dating from the early twelfth century. The original work, unique in
world literature, contains more than one thousand systematically
arranged tales from India, China, and Japan. It is the most
important example of a genre of collections of brief tales which,
because of their informality and unpretentious style, were
neglected by Japanese critics until recent years but which are now
acknowledged to be among the most significant prose literature of
premodern Japan. "Konjaku" in particular has aroused the enthusiasm
of such leading 20th-century writers as Akutagawa Ryunosuke and
Tanizaki Jun'ichiro. The stories, with sources in both traditional
lore and contemporary gossip, cover an astonishing range-homiletic,
sentimental, terrifying, practical-minded, humorous, ribald. Their
topics include the life of the Buddha, descriptions of Heaven and
Hell, feats of warriors, craftsmen, and musicians, unsuspected
vice, virtue, and ingenuity, and the ways and wiles of bandits,
ogres, and proverbially greedy provincial governors, to name just a
few. Composed perhaps a century after the refined, allusive,
aristocratic Tale of Genji, Konjaku represents a masculine outlook
and comparatively plebeian social orientation, standing in piquant
contrast to the earlier masterpiece. The unknown compiler was
interested less in exploring psychological subtleties than in
presenting vivid portraits of human foibles and eccentricities. The
stories in the present selection have been chosen to provide an
idea of the scope and structure of the book as a whole, and also
for their appeal to the modern reader. And the translation is based
on the premise that the most faithful rendering is also the
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