Konjaku Monogatarishu

Konjaku Monogatarishu

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is a Japanese collection
Japanese literature
Early works of Japanese literature were heavily influenced by cultural contact with China and Chinese literature, often written in Classical Chinese. Indian literature also had an influence through the diffusion of Buddhism in Japan...

 of over one thousand tales written during the late Heian period
Heian period
The is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. It is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height...

 (794-1185). The entire collection was originally contained in 31 volumes, of which only 28 remain today. The volumes cover various tales from India
Indian literature
Indian literature refers to the literature produced on the Indian subcontinent until 1947 and in the Republic of India thereafter. The Republic of India has 22 officially recognized languages....

, China
Chinese literature
Chinese literature extends thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to the mature fictional novels that arose during the Ming Dynasty to entertain the masses of literate Chinese...

 and Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...


The work is also commonly known by the name "Konjaku Monogatari"; since it is an anthology rather than a single tale, however, the longer title is more accurate.


The tales contained in the work are divided according to the region in which the tales take place. The first 5 volumes contain tales from India, the next five tales from China and the remainder tales from Japan. The subject-matter is drawn from Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 and secular
Secularity is the state of being separate from religion.For instance, eating and bathing may be regarded as examples of secular activities, because there may not be anything inherently religious about them...

Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...


All of the tales in the collection start with the phrase Now long ago (今は昔 ima wa mukashi). The Chinese-style pronunciation of this phrase is Kon-jaku, and it is from this that the collection is named.

The Buddhist tales cover a wide range of topics, both historical tales about the development, transmission, and spread of Buddhism, and dogma
Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization. It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioners or believers...

tic tales which emphasize karmic
Karma in Indian religions is the concept of "action" or "deed", understood as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect originating in ancient India and treated in Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh philosophies....


The folkloric tales mostly depict encounters between human beings and the supernatural. The typical characters are drawn from Japanese society of the time — nobility, warriors, monks, scholars, doctors, peasant farmers, fishermen, merchants, prostitutes, bandits, beggars. Their supernatural counterparts are oni and tengu
are a class of supernatural creatures found in Japanese folklore, art, theater, and literature. They are one of the best known yōkai and are sometimes worshipped as Shinto kami...


Date and authorship

The work is anonymous. Several theories of authorship have been put forward: one argues that the compiler was Minamoto no Takakuni, author of Uji Dainagon Monogatari
Uji Dainagon Monogatari
was a collection of stories said to have been written by Minamoto no Takakuni in the late Heian period. These stories heavily influenced Japanese literature, and later turned up in such works as the Konjaku Monogatarishū and the Uji Shūi Monogatari....

, another suggests the Buddhist monk Tobane Sōjō, a third proposes a Buddhist monk living somewhere in the vicinity of Kyoto
is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...

 or Nara
Nara, Nara
is the capital city of Nara Prefecture in the Kansai region of Japan. The city occupies the northern part of Nara Prefecture, directly bordering Kyoto Prefecture...

 during the late Heian period. So far no substantive evidence has emerged to decide the question, and no general consensus has formed.

The date of the work is also uncertain. From the events depicted in some of the tales it seems likely that it was written down at some point during the early half of the 12th century, after the year 1120.

Suzuka Manuscript

The oldest extant copy of the Konjaku Monogatarishū is the Suzuka Manuscript (鈴鹿家旧蔵本). Designated as a National Treasure
National treasures of Japan
National Treasures are the most precious of Japan's Tangible Cultural Properties, as determined and designated by the Agency for Cultural Affairs...

 in 1996, it was assembled by a Shinto priest named Tsuretane Suzuka in the Nara period
Nara period
The of the history of Japan covers the years from AD 710 to 794. Empress Gemmei established the capital of Heijō-kyō . Except for 5 years , when the capital was briefly moved again, it remained the capital of Japanese civilization until Emperor Kammu established a new capital, Nagaoka-kyō, in 784...

. The manuscript was then brought to Kyoto University
Kyoto University
, or is a national university located in Kyoto, Japan. It is the second oldest Japanese university, and formerly one of Japan's Imperial Universities.- History :...

 by a descendant who was a librarian at the university for donation and archiving. The manuscript has been scanned and made available in digital format on the internet.

Animals in Konjaku Monogatarishū

In this work, specific human traits and characteristics such as the ability to think, feel, and speak in a human method of cognition are assigned to various types of animals.

By assigning human traits to the animals, and through the utilization of these anthropomorphic animals, the authorship was more effectively able to communicate the various motifs, which impart a variety of moral teachings. To be able to implement such a paradigm, the authorship would have utilized pre-conceived common traits which were attributable to specific animals. The animals and their respective traits would have been common and implicit knowledge in ancient Japan, and therefore known ubiquitously.
The types of tales in Konjaku which include the use of anthropomorphic animals can be broadly classified into categories, in which a particular moral is accentuated.


Many of the tales which appear in the Konjaku are also found in other collections, such as ghost story collections; having passed into the common consciousness, they have been retold many times over the succeeding centuries. Modern writers too have adapted tales from the Konjaku Monogatarishū: a famous example is Akutagawa Ryūnosuke
Ryunosuke Akutagawa
was a Japanese writer active in the Taishō period in Japan. He is regarded as the "Father of the Japanese short story". He committed suicide at age of 35 through an overdose of barbital.-Early life:...

's In a Grove
In a Grove
is a short story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, first appearing in the January 1922 edition of the Japanese literature monthly Shinchō. Akira Kurosawa used this story as the basis for his award-winning movie Rashōmon....

(well known in the West from Kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa
was a Japanese film director, producer, screenwriter and editor. Regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, Kurosawa directed 30 filmsIn 1946, Kurosawa co-directed, with Hideo Sekigawa and Kajiro Yamamoto, the feature Those Who Make Tomorrow ;...

's film Rashomon). Other authors who have written stories based on tales from the Konjaku include Jun'ichirō Tanizaki and Hori Tatsuo
Hori Tatsuo
was a writer, poet, and translator in Showa period Japan.-Early life:Hori was born in Tokyo, and was a graduate of Tokyo Imperial University. While still a student, he contributed translations of modern French poets to a literary journal called Roba, which was sponsored by poet Murō Saisei...


A cryptic line in Akutagawa's classic Rashōmon
Rashomon (short story)
is a short story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa based on tales from the Konjaku Monogatarishū.The story was first published in 1915 in Teikoku Bungaku. Akira Kurosawa's film Rashomon , takes only its name and some of the material for the frame scenes, such as the theft of a kimono and the discussion of the...

says「旧記の記者の語を借りれば、『頭身の毛も太る』ように感じたのである。」(lit. To borrow a phrase from the writers of the chronicles of old, he felt as if 'even the hairs on his head and body had grown thick'.) This is a reference to a line from the Konjaku Monogatarishū; figuratively the phrase means He was scared, he felt as if his hair was standing on end.

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