Uji Shui Monogatari (a collection of the Tales from Uji) (宇治拾遺物語)

Uji Shui Monogatari is a collection of setsuwa monogatari (narratives) of medieval Japan that was compiled in the first half of the thirteenth century. It ranks with the "Konjaku monogatari shu" (Collected Tales of Past and Present) as one of the great masterpieces of setsuwa literature. Neither the compiler nor the author is known.


Its title refers to the fact that the setsuwa tales it contains were gleaned from those not included in the "Ujidainagon monogatari" ("The Tale of Chief Counselor Uji," a collection of setsuwa thought to have been compiled by the Ujidainagon MINAMOTO no Takakuni which is no longer extant). It comprises 197 stories in fifteen volumes. Apparently, the collection consisted of two volumes in its old form.

According to the preface, the collected setsuwa tales are actually set in three different countries, not only in Japan but also in India and China; the preface also explains that the setsuwa tales have been collected into various types, including "aware" (poignant), "okashi" (amusing), and "osoroshiki" (terrifying) tales. However, few original setsuwa tales were included, and many of the tales appear in earlier collections like the "Konjaku monogatari shu."
(As for the direct sources for these setsuwa tales, very similar stories can be found in such works as the "Kojidan" (Tales of the Past), the "Jikkinsho" (Ten Miscellaneous Maxims), and the "Uchigikishu" (Collected Stories I Heard), and over 80 of its stories are duplicated in the "Konjaku monogatari shu.")

The collected stories feature a wide range of characters, from noblemen to commoners, and their subject matter ranges all over, from the quotidian to the bizarre to the hilarious. The story called "Imogayu" (Potato gruel) was used as the inspiration for a short story by Ryunosuke AKUTAGAWA (note however that the same story also appears in "Konjaku monogatari shu").

The setsuwa contained in "Uji Shui Monogatari" can be classified into three categories according to their contents:

Buddhist setsuwa (whose topics include depraved priests, venerable priests, spiritual awakening, and passing into the next life)
Secular setsuwa (funny stories, stories on robbers or animals, love stories, etc.)
Secular setsuwa (including humorous tales, tales about robbers or animals, and love stories)

As folklore, well-known setsuwa such as 'Warashibe Choja' (literally, rich person by the central stalk of a dried rice plant), 'Suzume no Ongaeshi '(the sparrow that returned a favor) and 'Kobutori Jiisan' (the old man who got his wen snatched off) are included. Although the collection does include some tales with Buddhist subject matter, most such tales tend to be on bawdy or humorous topics (for example, one features a chigo (acolyte) of Mt. Hiei who becomes the laughingstock of the priests when his youthful inexperience leads him to speak in a manner inappropriate to the occasion), and didactic or morally instructive elements are relatively weak in such tales. Consequently, it is possible to approach the setsuwa in this collection from a point of view that is unfettered by allegiance to any specific code of values that would require a faith-based reading. In that sense, among all the medieval collections of setsuwa tales this one stands out as unique.


It seems that "Uji Shui Monogatari" was compiled during the period from 1213 to 1221. Its preface includes the following descriptions about the process of its compilation.

1. Firstly, the "Ujidainagon monogatari," supposedly written by the nobleman Takakuni--who called it simply "Ujidainagon"--was written (it is no longer extant).

2. "Ujidainagon Monogatari" was then revised and supplemented.

3. The Shuishu (which after all means "Collected Gleanings") was compiled from stories that had either not been included in earlier compilations or had arisen after those other compilations were completed.

At any rate, there are several different views regarding its formation. One theory holds that, because the "Kojidan" is thought to be the direct source for one of its tales, the Shuishu must have been compiled sometime during the Kenryaku era (1211-1212). Another theory holds that the use of "Gotoba-in" (Retired Emperor Gotoba), the emperor's posthumous name, in story number 159 proves it must have been compiled soon after 1242, when this posthumous name first came into use.

A third point of view acknowledges that the currently extant "Uji shui monogatari" may well have been compiled as described above, but holds that the currently extant version represents only excerpts of the version described in number 3 above. On the other hand, a competing theory argues that the preface itself was created and then added by the compiler or perhaps an editor of a later generation.


Today more than twenty different denpon (transcribed or published manuscript versions) are extant; they can be broken into two general categories, the kohonkei (old book lineage) and the rufubonkei (widely circulated edition lineage). The most representative denpon of the former category is the Kunaicho Shoryobu Goshobon (in other words, "the manuscript kept by the Archives and Mausoleum Department of the Imperial Household Agency"). The best example of the latter lineage is the Manji Ninen Han Bon ("the version published in Manji 2," or in other words the 1659 edition) an illustrated version which can still be found in the Cabinet Library, among other places.

[Original Japanese]