A Translation of Ryôjinhishô, a Compendium of Japanese Folk Songs (Imayô) from the Heian Period (794-1185)

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Winner of the Adele Mellen Prize for Contribution to Scholarship
Despite Ryôjinhishô’s monumental importance in classical Japanese literature, this work has never been translated into English in its entirety before. Along with the complete English translation, with annotations and transcriptions, this study also contains a discussion imayô and its place in the continuity of the genre of Japanese songs from antiquity to the time of imayô. The songs were originally compiled by the retired Emperor Go-Sirakawa (1127-1292).


"The Ryoojinhishoo provides rare insight into the lives and culture of common people in the Heian period. Songs of prostitutes, cormorant fishermen, children, gamblers, and mothers voice timeless emotions. The other scholarly monograph in English on the Ryoojinhishoo, Yung-Hee Kim's outstanding Songs to Make the Dust Dance (CH, Jul'94), provides a translation of 222 of the extant songs and gives a full account of Emperor Go-Shirakawa's relationship to the collection. Nakahara includes translations of all 571 extant songs, and her introduction sets the songs in the context of a masterfully reconstructed history of the folk-song genre. The previously untranslated songs include many on Buddhist themes. These songs are a priceless record of how ordinary people in the Heian period understood Buddhism; indeed, their existence refutes the notion that popular Buddhism began in the Kamakura period. Nakahara's translations, accompanied by romanized versions of the original, are fluid and well annotated. This fine work is both scholarly and imminently accessible in style and content. When the print-run of this hard-cover edition is exhausted, some press should consider it for a paperback edition. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All collections supporting the study of Japanese literature and culture." - CHOICE

“…Nakahara presents for the first time a complete translation of all of the songs. Accurately and elegantly rendered, her translations sing and allow us to hear voices from a distant past….thanks to Nakahara’s translation, we can say that ordinary lay persons also affirmed their inherent identity with the buddhas. There is an upbeat optimism that everyone can be saved, that all bad karma can be washed away, that the deities are compassionate, and that scriptures like the Lotus Sutra bear the good news of salvation for all. Historians of religion have sometimes credited the appearance of these beliefs to a later period, but the Ryôjinhishô provides incontrovertible evidence to the common acceptance of these matters already in the early 12th century….Locked in a language only a specialist can read, the songs have been carefully removed from their medieval box and presented to a modern English reading public by Nakahara through her skill and learning.” – George J. Tanabe, Jr., University of Hawaii

"These songs are a priceless record of how ordinary people in the Heian period understood Buddhism; indeed, their existence refutes the notion that popular Buddhism began in the Kamakura period ... This fine work is both scholarly and imminenently accessible in style and content ... highly recommended." -- CHOICE

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
1. Introduction
2. A Short History of Ryôjinhishô
3. Imayô: Forms and Types, Literary Techniques of Ryôjinhishô’s Imayô; Sources of Imayô; Height of Popularity of Imayô
4. Imayô in the History of Kayô : Archaic Kayô; Kagura Uta; Saibara
5. Conclusion
6. Translation and Romanized Transcription of Ryôjinhishô Kashishû
Appendix: Transcriptions of Romanized Japanese Proper Nouns
Bibliography; Index

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