Taketori Monogatari (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter) (竹取物語)

It is said that Taketori Monogatari is the oldest tale in Japan. Although it is commonly known as Taketori Monogatari, it was also called Taketori no Okina no Monogatari (The Tale of the Old Bamboo Cutter) or Kaguyahime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya). Both the year of completion and the author are unknown. This is also known as one of the earliest tales written in kana (the Japanese Syllabaries) in the history of Japanese literature.

It is the tale of Princess Kaguya who comes from the inside of a shining bamboo shoot and is brought up by a bamboo cutter and his wife. The 3791st poem collected in the 16th volume of Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) is a choka (long poem) in which 'the bamboo cutter' composes a poem about a heavenly maiden, which suggests that it might be related to the tale.

Completion

The year of completion is unknown, and of course the original manuscript is not extant; the oldest manuscript was made during the Tensho era (Azuchi-Momoyama period). However, "Yamato Monogatari" (Tales of Yamato) and "Utsuho Monogatari" (The Tale of the Cavern) completed in the tenth century, and "Eiga Monogatari" (A Tale of Flowering Fortunes) and "Sagoromo Monogatari" (The Tale of Sagoromo) in the eleventh century refer to "Taketori Monogatari," and moreover a chapter of 'A Picture Contest' in "Genji Monogatari" (The Tale of Genji) says, 'Taketori no Okina, a founder of the tale,' which suggests that the tale was completed at least by the mid-tenth century. It is generally considered that the tale was written between the Jogan era, the first half of the Heian period, and the Engi era, especially the latter half of the 890s. Under the influence of the Chinese books like "History of the Later han Dynasty" and "Bai-Shi Wen Ji," the original tale, which had been passed on by word of mouth, was once written down in Chinese, and then it seems to have been rewritten in kana later.

The author is also unknown. Considering the literacy rate in those days, a common man could not be a possible author, therefore it is conjectured that the author would have been somebody who belonged to the upper class and lived near the Heiankyo (the Heian Palace), easily accessing information of the court nobles. Also, there is something antiestablishment in the tale, so the author couldn't have been a descendant of the Fujiwara clan who held power in those days, therefore it is considered that the tale would have been written by a male writer who was familiar with the study of the Chinese classics, Buddhism, folklore, and able to write kana letters on paper, which was precious. Based on these things mentioned above, the author could have been MINAMOTO no Shitago, MINAMOTO no Toru, Henjo, KI no Tsurayuki, or KI no Haseo, but it is impossible to say for sure.

Plot

The characters are Taketori no Okina (an old man) and his wife Ona (an old woman), and the Okina makes a living by creating various things with the bamboo he cuts. One day, when Taketori no Okina goes to a bamboo thicket, he sees a bamboo whose base is shining. Wondering what it is, he cuts the bamboo and finds a lovely girl about three inches tall in there, so he decides to bring her up as their child. After that he finds gold in bamboos every day, and the couple become rich. The child whom the Okina has found grows bigger and bigger, and reaches adolescence in three months. She becomes an incredibly beautiful lady, and someone is called to give her a name.
The person names her 'Nayotake (pliable bamboo) no Kaguyahime.'
On this occasion, many people, both men and women, gather to celebrate for three days.

Both noble and vulgar men all try to marry Princess Kaguya. Many young court nobles who try to take a peek at her constantly come and surround the residence of Taketori no Okina, spending their time around it. Before long, those who are not so enthusiastic stop visiting. Five young court nobles who are said to be lecherous remain, and they keep visiting his house day and night. These five young court nobles are as follows: Prince Ishizukuri, Prince Kurumamochi, Minister of the Right Abe no Miushi, Dainagon (chief councilor of state) OTOMO no Miyuki, and Chunagon (vice-councilor of state) ISONOKAMI no Maro.

The Okina, who realizes that these men won't give up, tells Princess Kaguya that 'women should marry men. You should choose one from them.'
Then Princess Kaguya says, 'Please tell them that I would like to marry the man who will bring me something I want.'
When night comes, the five men gather. The Okina tells them what Princess Kaguya wants.

She asks Prince Ishizukuri to bring the stone begging bowl used by Buddha; Prince Kurumamochi, a branch of a tree with jeweled fruit from Penglai, the legendary Isle of the Immortals; Minister of the Right ABE no Miushi, a robe made of the fire-rat; Dainagon (chief councilor of state) OTOMO no Miyuki, a gemstone from a dragon's head; Chunagon (vice-councilor of state) ISONOKAMI no Maro, one of the easy-birth shells supposedly possessed by swallows. All of them are legendary rare treasures and difficult to get.

Ishizukuri takes an ordinary bowl which is revealed to be a fake; Kurumamochi has a craftsman make an imitation, which is also revealed because the craftsman shows up; What Abe has brought is supposed not to burn, but actually it does; Otomo gives up bringing the treasure because of the storm; Isonokami dies because he tries to take the shell climbing up the roof of a shed on which a big pot called Oyashima of the Oiryo (a part of the Imperial Household) is set. In the end, nobody succeeds.

Mikado (the Emperor) hears about what is going on, and he wants to see her. The Okina tries to arrange the meeting, but she refuses it, and she makes the Mikado give up on her too, disappearing from his sight, although she has only been seen by him once. However, she comes to exchange waka poems with him.

Three years have passed since she started to exchange poems with the Mikado, and Princess Kaguya comes to be lost in deep thought whenever she looks at the moon.
As a full moon of August comes near, she is often crying bitterly, so the Okina asks her why and she replies, 'I'm not from this planet but from the moon, and have to return to it on 15th.'
The Mikado discovers this and sends brave troops.

On the day, around midnight, somebody comes from the sky, but the troops, the Okina and Ona can't resist, and Princess Kaguya goes back to the moon. When Princess Kaguya leaves, she presents the Mikado the elixir of life, a feathered robe worn by heavenly beings and a letter. However Mikado orders to burn them at the highest mountain in Japan, which is in Suruga Province. Since then the mountain is called 'Fushi no yama' (literally, a mountain of immortal) (later called Mt. Fuji), and smoke comes to rise from the mountain.

Characteristics of the tale

This work contains very different elements of story: a story of Princess Kaguya's being born from a bamboo (a story of extraordinary birth); a story of sudden growth as Kaguya's becoming grown-up in three months; a story of becoming a rich man as Taketori no Okina's flourishing due to miracles created by Princess Kaguya; a story of suitors and difficult tasks as her giving difficult tasks to the suitors to fail in solving them; a story of Emperor's marriage proposal as her refusing Emperor's courtship; a story of rising to heaven (a story of a robe of feathers) as Princess Kaguya's returning to the moon; a story of an origin of the name of the place as the name of Mt. Fuji being revealed at the end of the tale. In spite of including so many different elements of story, the tale has reached a high degree of perfection, being valued as the tale or the ancient novel in the early period of a history of literature.

Because of so many different elements, the resemblance to or influence of the other works has been pointed out. Taketori Monogatari has basically the same structure as Robe of Feathers Legend, in which a main character from the supernatural world makes a poor man flourish and returns where she comes from. Moreover, the resemblance to the Chinese classical books ("History of the Later Han Dynasty," "Bai-Shi Wen Ji," and so on) has been pointed out by many people, so the tale seems to have been affected by these books.

"Konjaku Monogatari Shu" (Tales of Times Now Past) completed in the late Heian period also includes a similar story to Taketori Monogatari (volume 31, 'A story of Taketori no Okina who found a baby girl and brought her up'), but in this version the plot is more simplified: only three difficult tasks are given to the suitors; Princess Kaguya doesn't return to the moon on the 15th night; a history of the name of Mt. Fuji is not introduced. The tale collected in Konjaku Monogatari seems to have been referred to the Chinese books, being different from the consummate work of "Taketori Monogatari," and has been assumed that it told an old form of 'The Tale of Taketori no Okina,' which had been handed down orally.

There is an example of a foreign folklore similar to Taketori Monogatari; 'Banzhu Guniang' (collected in "Jinyu Fenghuang" written and edited by Tian Haiyan in 1961), which has been handed down in Ngawa Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Region in Sichuan Province, China. The story is that a girl being born from a bamboo shoot comes to be asked to marry by sons of a feudal lord, but she refuses them giving difficult tasks, and she is wedded to a man whom she has loved for a long time in the end; especially the number of treasures in the scene of courtship, the treasures themselves, conversation with the men, and the ending are quite similar to Taketori Monogatari.

Characters and time

Princess Kaguya, the old couple, and Mikado are fictional characters, while there are several characters borrowed from reality, which is one of the characteristics of this tale. Of five young court nobles, ABE no Miushi, OTOMO no Miyuki, and ISONOKAMI no Maro were real people. Also, it is conjectured that Prince Kurumamochi was modeled after FUJIWARA no Fuhito, and Prince Ishizukuri's model was TAJIHI no Shima. These five men were all meritorious vassals at the Jinshin War serving Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jito, which suggests that the tale takes place in the early Nara period.

As to the main character Princess Kaguya, people made various suppositions; for example, a relationship with Emperor Suinin's consort Kaguyahime (a daughter of Otsuki no Miko (King Otsuki Tarine)), and a relationship with Toyouke Taijin (Grand Divine Toyouke) was discussed because the name of Kaguyahime written in Chinese characters (赫夜姫) can also be read as 'Toyohime.'

Places in connection with the tale

Taketori no Okina was once called 'Sanuki no Miyatsuko' in the tale. Because of this, it is commonly considered that Taketori no Okina lived in Sanuki Village, Hirose District, Yamato Province (the present Koryo-cho, Kita katsuragi-gun, Nara Prefecture).

Other than this, there are some areas which people consider to be a place in connection with Taketori Monogatari, designing a town using a theme of Taketori Monogatari (Princess Kaguya). At the following seven cities and towns, 'Princess Kaguya Summit ' is regularly held for promoting local interaction.

Fuji City, Shizuoka Prefecture
Koryo-cho, Nara Prefecture
Muko City, Kyoto Prefecture
Nagao-cho, Kagawa Prefecture
Mabi-cho, Okayama Prefecture
Takehara City, Hiroshima Prefecture
Miyanojo-cho, Kagoshima Prefecture