Japanese Tales

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Japanese Tales

Japanese Tales, Folio Society

Today we are taking a close look at the Folio Society’s edition of Japanese Tales, a collection of 170 quaint, comic and curious tales that delve into Medieval Japanese culture that was released in 2018.

The binding of this edition is both deluxe and distinctive, it’s a large sized ‘fine edition’ that is slightly above a regular edition in quality. The book features a beautiful blocked wrap-around image on a tactile blue and green woven cloth that almost shimmers. The slipcase has been die-cut so that the silver moth stamped on the case literally gazes through the case at the silvery moon that is on the front cover of the book.

The top page edge block is silver gilt, but not the sides, the book has a red ribbon bookmark, and the endpapers are illustrated with a printed Japanese wave design.

The paper used for this edition is the thick, creamy Abbey Wove often favoured by the Folio Society, and the book has been crafted the Italian LEGO S.p.A (Legatoria Editoriale Giovanni Olivotto), a family-owned enterprise with almost 120 years of fine printing and publishing behind them.

The book is very thoughtfully illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, a Japanese artist located in New York, with illustrations that were specially commissioned for this Folio edition. Her artwork reflects the traditional style of art that matches the time period of the stories, while also retaining a contemporary modern flair. The illustrations are beautiful and really glow.

These stories in the collection are not your typical Japanese folktales. These are well-researched and legitimate old medieval stories that I imagine are even uncommonly known in Japan today. The tales themselves are gathered by Royall Tyler, a noted scholar and translator of Japanese literature, from a number of different sources. The stories vary in length from a single paragraph to several pages, and cover a great range of themes – Tyler has arranged the tales loosely by topic, with four in each category. The book includes eight full-color ink and brush illustrations, and several grey block illustrations that appear alongside the topical headings.

It’s important to note that the original collection volume contains more tales than are in the Folio Society edition. Royall Tyler’s first collection of these tales originally contained 220 tales, and 50 of these were dropped for the Folio Society edition. The introductory essay – which is excellent, by the way, as it provides very valuable context for the tales – is the same introduction that you will find in the trade editions, except that a few sentences that refer to the missing tales have also been deleted. Unfortunately, there is no reason given for the missing stories, which I find a bit annoying, but since the collection itself was originally taken from a wide array of sources, you don’t get the feeling that the shorter Folio collection has been abridged in any way when you read it.

It’s a lovely book, and I absolutely recommend it if you have any interest in folklore, or Asian medieval history, despite the higher than usual price. For collectors, it is also worth noting that this book was produced in a much smaller print run than usual – with only 2000 copies printed in comparison to the usual run of three to five thousand – so noso when it goes out of print it is likely to be very scarce on the second hand market.

→ Check availability at Abes

Video Review

Japanese Fairy Tales - Hasegawa

If you are looking for other fine volumes in this genre of medieval Japanese tale, there are actually not many alternatives for collectors. This style of tale was introduced to Western audiences by the Japanese publisher Takejiro Hasegawa who published French and English language editions of these Japanese tales printed on a crepe-like paper and illustrated with exquisite Japanese wood block colour illustrations from 1885 through the mid-1920s. The most famous (and expensive) of these collections is a small 5-volume set of stories translated by Lafcadio Hearn that Hasegawa published in the 1920s, which routinely costs between $2000-3000 for the set in fine condition (The Boy Who Drew Cats; The Old Woman Who Lost Her Dumpling, Chin Chin Kobakama, The Goblin Spider and The Fountain of Youth).

Green Willow and other fairy tales

Easton Press also released a Deluxe Limited Edition that is a facsimile of the original deluxe Green Willow and Other Japanese Fairy Tales, a selection of 38 tales and legends collected by Grace James and illustrated by Warwick Goble. The first deluxe edition of 1910 was limited to only 500 copies, while the now out of print Easton Press leather-bound facsimile was limited to 1200 copies with 40 tipped in illustrations. There was also a much more affordable Calla Edition for this title as well, although that one is also now out of print.

Trade Editions

On the other hand, if you are just looking for a cheap version of the Royall Tyler tales to read, there are many non-collectible trade editions available, which do also have the bonus of usually including all 220 tales. The Pantheon fairy tale and folklore library, for example, does a nice edition of Japanese Tales in paperback or kindle, which even has some black and white illustrations – and this would be a cheaper way to get a feel for the stories before splurging on a fine edition. I personally am also looking out for a nice copy of another Royall Tyler collection called The Tale of the Heike, which is known as Japan’s equivalent of the Iliad.

Book Links

Folio Society Japanese Tales – Royall Tyler/Yuko Shimizu (2018, OOP)
➤ Check availability at Abes

Pantheon Japanese Tales – Royall Tyler (paperback)
➤ Paperback: AmazonBook Depository 
➤ Kindle: Amazon 

Hasegawa Japanese Tales – Lafcadio Hearn (OOP)
➤ Check availability at Abes

Green Willow – Grace James/Warwick Goble (1910 1st Ed, OOP)
➤ Check availability at Abes

Green Willow – Grace James/Warwick Goble (Easton Press, OOP)
➤ Check availability at Abes

Green Willow – Grace James/Warwick Goble (Calla, OOP)
➤ Check availability at Abes or Amazon

Tales of the Heike – Royall Tyler (paperback)
➤ Paperback: Amazon | Book Depository


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1 Comment

Jane · 18 October 2021 at 1:23 pm

I am always so impressed with how you find the details on these books. I own folio society’s Japanese Tales, and I think you’re the only place where I could find what kind of paper was used in the production of it. Thanks for your detective work!

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