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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Study of Setsuwa literature with emphasis on the Nihon Ryoiki. Golay, Jacqueline


Before taking up the study of the Nihon Ryoiki itself it seemed necessary to explore the meaning of the expression "setsuwa bungaku". Japanese scholars have given this expression different meanings and varying delimitations. "Setsuwa" is a general term which means "a Tale" and which implies an oral tradition. In the "History of Japanese litterature" edited by Hisanatsu Sen'ichi are articles which treat the folktale and folktale literature seperately without establishing a clear relationship between the two concepts. In fact, the term "setsuwa bungaku" usually designates a type of folk litterature which consists of didactic buddhistic tales. Many collections of such tales were compiled , often by buddhist monks, during the Heian and Kamakura periods. The first of these was the Nihon Ryoiki, in the early 9th century. In Hisaratsu's "History of Japanese litterature " it is not discussed under the heading of setsuwa bungaku. However, the Ryoiki is certainly one of the most important of setsuwa collections and it cannot be isolated from the mainstream of setsuwa litterature which flourished in late Heian and in Kamakura, and of which the Konjaku Monogatari is always considered the prototype. The author of the Ryoiki, the monk Kyokai,lived through a period of intense political, social and religious turmoil. Kyokai's observations of the social distress and of his own miserable life resulted in a strong sense of mission, the result of which was the Nihon Ryoiki. The study of Kyokai's own account in his prefaces and of the contents of the Ryoiki leads one to believe that the book was achieved, and probably wholly written,during the years Konin (810-824). The Ryoiki is made up of one hundred and sixteen tales. The author presents them as genuine Japanese folktales, but it can be shown that many of them have Indian or Chinese origins. These tales can be divided into three types: the non buddhist stories, which are few in number; the moralistic stories which are not clearly of buddhist inspiration; the buddhist tales, by far the most numerous. These are tales of reward and punishment either in this world or in the world of the Dead. The tales of the Ryoiki are quite enlightening on certain aspects of Japanese society during the Nara period. In his preface, Kyokai mentions having read two Chinese collections of Buddhist tales, the Myohoki and the Hannyakenki. A comparison of some of these with corresponding tales from the Ryoiki reveals how, while remaining fairly close to his models, Kyokai subtly and methodically gave them an entirely different flavour. Following this analysis, a survey of setsuwa litterature up to the end of the Kamakura period attempts to show how much all of the subsequent collections of buddhist tales were indebted to the Nihon Ryoiki and how they reflect the fluctuations of buddhist thought in Japan. The second part of the dissertation consists of the translation of nine tales from the Ryoiki. Appendix One gives the translations of threetales from the Myohoki and their counterparts in the Ryoiki. In appendix Two, a few translations are intended to suggest the variety of style and of treatment in the buddhist tales of later setsuwashu.

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