Ugetsu Monogatari

Ugetsu Monogatari (雨月物語, Tales of Moonlight and Rain) is a collection of nine supernatural tales by the Japanese author Ueda Akinari, first published in 1776.

Largely taken from traditional Japanese and Chinese ghost stories, the collection is among most important works of Japanese fiction of the 18th century, the middle of the Edo period. Edo literary achievements are normally associated with the fiction of Ihara Saikaku and drama of Chikamatsu Monzaemon in the Genroku period and the popular literature of Takizawa Bakin in the later Bunka Bunsei period. Ugetsu Monogatari, then, occupies an important yet often overlooked position between these two moments in Edo literary history. The collection is the author's best known work. He had previously written two ukiyo zoshi in 1766-7[1] and a second collection Harusame Monogatari was not printed until 1907.


The term "monogatari" reflects a refined form of narrative fiction, for example the earlier "court romances" like Genji monogatari and Saigyō monogatari. Ugetsu is a compound; u means "rain", while getsu translates to "moon".[2] It derives from a passage in the book's preface describing "a night with a misty moon after the rains", and references a noh play also called Ugetsu, which likewise employs the common contemporary symbols of rain and moon.[3] These images evoked the supernatural and mysterious in East Asian literature; Qu You's "Mudan ting ji", one of Ueda's major sources, indicates that a rainy night or a morning moon may presage the coming of supernatural beings.[4] Tales of Moonlight and Rain is the most common English translation; other translations include Tales of a Clouded Moon[5][6][7] and Tales of Rain and the Moon.[8]

Content and style

The nine stories are based on supernatural tales of the Ming dynasty, from the works Jiandeng Xinhua (剪灯新話) and Sanyan (三言). In his reinterpretation of these stories, Ueda recast them as historical tales set in Japan, weaving together elements of the source tales with a rich array of references to historical events, personages, and literary works, both Japanese and Chinese. In his use of Chinese compounds glossed with Japanese phonetic readings, Ueda frequently incorporates double meanings and word play into his text. Ueda’s penchant for allusion is evident in the Chinese preface, which is also noteworthy for its presentation of the author’s view of fiction as means of expressing truth.

Although each story revolves around a supernatural event, Ueda does not stray too far from the affairs of this world. Like other members of the kokugaku (nativist) movement Ueda relied on fiction as a tool to reinvigorate Japan’s past, by bringing to life the aesthetics of antiquity in the present. At the same time, he presents in Ugetsu Monogatari some of the moral views of the kokugaku school. To do so, he employs supernatural elements, such as ghosts who revisit the living to make known the effects they have suffered from the unethical behavior of others. For example, in the story “Asaji ga yado” (“The House Amid the Reeds”), upon which Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1953 film Ugetsu is partially based, a husband who has abandoned his faithful wife returns home only to unknowingly meet her ghost, an experience which leads him to a heartbreaking realization of the effects of his infidelity.[9] However, as Dennis Washburn argues, through his highly literate style and developed narrative technique, Ueda avoids overly emphasizing the moral aspect, and the tales are first and foremost a literary exploration of human emotion.

Publication and influence

Ugetsu Monogatari was first published in a 1776 woodblock edition, although some scholars maintain that the work was completed eight years earlier in 1768. Ueda published the work anonymously, but Takizawa Bakin's later attribution of the work to him is now undisputed. Ugetsu was one of the first works of “reading books” (yomihon) that were published for a smaller, more literate audience. Often centering on historical topics, “reading books” catered to the highly educated, both in Chinese and Japanese classics, and were also connoisseurs of Ming period vernacular fiction. Ugetsu grew in popularity following its publication, and many subsequent authors such as Santō Kyōden and Bakin modeled their works on its content and style. Although interest declined for a time in the Meiji period, many 20th-century writers, including Junichiro Tanizaki and Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, read and were influenced by his work.

The first English translation was published by Wilfrid Whitehouse in Monumenta Nipponica in 1938 and 1941, under the title "Ugetsu Monogatari: Tales of a Clouded Moon".[10] Subsequent English translations have been published by Dale Saunders (1966), Kenji Hamada (1972),[11] Leon Zolbrod (1974) and Anthony H. Chambers (2006).[12]


The nine stories appeared in four volumes in the following order.

  • Shiramine (White Peak): "a story based upon a Japanese legend that features the native supernatural flying goblin tengu, likewise has strong elements of a folk tale prototype"[13]
  • Kikka no Chigiri (The Chrysanthemum Pledge): "Akinari not only uses the plot but also the diction of the Chinese vernacular story, "Fan Juquing jishu sisheng jiao" (Fan Chu-ch'ing's Eternal Friendship)".[14] "A man unable to go to his friend's house because he has been imprisoned kills himself so that his ghost can escape and fulfil the pledge."[15]
  • Asaji ga Yado (House Amid the Thickets)
  • Muo no Rigyo (A Carp That Appeared in My Dream)
  • Bupposo (Bird of Paradise)
  • Kibitsu no Kama (The Cauldron of Kibitsu): "The story of a husband who runs off with a prostitute. The wife dies and her spirit possesses the prostitute who herself dies."[16] The remainder of the story chronicles the husband's ineffectual attempts to combat the spirit of his deceased wife.
  • Jasei no In (Lust of the White Serpent) A Bildungsroman developed from the Chinese folktale Legend of the White Snake in which the male protagonist, himself a dissolute second son impoverished due to primogeniture, falls in love with the white snake disguised as a beautiful woman.[17][18][19] She is an anima of the protagonist's desires and indiscipline, constantly making trouble for him.[20] Intent on saving his family from suffering at her hands, he traps her in an urn and buries her under Leifeng Pagoda.[21][22]
  • Aozukin (The Blue Hood)
  • Hinpuku-ron (Theory of Wealth and Poverty)

Derivative works


  1. Monumenta Nipponica 1970 Page 372 Jōchi Daigaku - 1970 "Despite the demands of business during these years, he found time to write; in 1766-7 he published two ukiyo zoshi, and in 1768 wrote the work for which he is best known, Ugetsu monogatari (Tales of a Clouded Moon). "
  2. Zolbrod, pp. 19–20.
  3. Chambers, p. 13, 29.
  4. Chambers, p. 13.
  5. Bush, Laurence C. (2001). Asian Horror Encyclopedia: Asian Horror Culture in Literature. p. 188.
  6. Ueda, Akinari (1938). "Ugetsu monogatari: Tales of a Clouded Moon". Monumenta Nipponica. 1.
  7. Whitehouse, p. 166.
  8. Keene, Donald (1999). World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-0231114677.
  9. Bridge - Volume 6 - Page 27 1978 "Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of the Silvery Moonlight in the Rain) has probably received ..."
  10. Whitehouse 1941.
  11. Bridge - Volume 6 - Page 27 1978
  12. James Lasdun (January 27, 2007). "Review: Tales of Moonlight and Rain by Ueda Akinari, translated by Anthony H Chambers". The Guardian.
  13. Reider, "Emergence of Kaidan-shu"
  14. Reider, "Emergence of Kaidan-shu"
  15. Kato and Sanderson, 192
  16. Kato and Sanderson, 192
  17. Washburn, Dennis Charles (2007). Translating Mount Fuji: Modern Japanese Fiction and the Ethics of Identity. Columbia University Press. pp. 115–116. ISBN 978-0231138925. Retrieved 2014-04-04.
  18. Cornyetz, Nina (1999). Dangerous Women, Deadly Words: Phallic Fantasy and Modernity in Three Japanese Writers. Stanford University Press. pp. 172–173. ISBN 9780804732123. Retrieved 2014-04-04.
  19. Idema, Wilt L. (2009). The White Snake and Her Son. Hackett Publishing Company. pp. xii–xiv. ISBN 9780872209954. Retrieved 2014-04-04.
  20. Walker, Janet A. (2013). "The confrontation with the anima in Akinari Ueda's story "Jasei no In"". Myth, Literature, and the Unconscious. Karnac Books Ltd. ISBN 9781782200024. Retrieved 2014-04-04.
  21. Yau Shuk-Ting, Kinnia (2010). Japanese and Hong Kong Film Industries: Understanding the Origins of East Asian film networks. Routledge. p. 81. ISBN 978-0203874271. Retrieved 2014-04-01.
  22. Ueda Akinari (1974). "The Lust of the White Serpent". Ugetsu Monogatari or Tales of Moonlight and Rain. Routledge. ISBN 978-0048231161. Retrieved 2014-04-04.
  23. Ueki, Asako; Shimizu, Reiko; Hyūga, Kaoru; Katō, Akiko (2007). Etō, Shigeharu (ed.). Takarazuka Gekidan Sutadīzu: Butai o 100-bai Tanoshimu Chitekina 15 Kōza. Tokyo: Ebisu Kōshō. p. 254. ISBN 978-4900901711. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
  24. "Chosha Interview". Bungakukai (in Japanese). September 2006.
  25. "Kongetsu no Bookmark". Da Vinci (in Japanese). December 2009.


  • Hamada, Kengi. "About the Author." In Tales of Moonlight and Rain. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Katō, Shūichi. A History of Japanese Literature: From the Man'yōshū to Modern Times. Tr. Don Sanderson. New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • Keene, Donald. 1976. World within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
  • Keene, Donald (1993). The Pleasures of Japanese Literature. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231067372.
  • Noriko Reider, "The Emergence of Kaidan-shu: The Collection of Tales of the Strange and Mysterious in the Edo Period." Asian Folklore Studies 60 (2001): 79-99.
  • Reider, Noriko T. 2002. Tales of the Supernatural in Early Modern Japan: Kaidan, Akinari, Ugetsu Monogatari. Edwin Mellen Press.
  • Shirane, Haruo, ed. "Early Yomihon: History, Romance, and the Supernatural." In Early Modern Japanese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
  • Takata Mamoru. "Ugetsu Monogatari: A Critical Interpretation." In Tales of Moonlight and Rain: Japanese Gothic Tales. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972.
  • Ueda Akinari, Anthony H. Chambers (trans.) 2009. Tales of Moonlight and Rain. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231139136
  • Ueda Akinari, Wilfrid Whitehouse (trans.), "Ugetsu Monogatari: Tales of a Clouded Moon, by Ueda Akinari (1739-1809)". Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Jan., 1941), pp. 166–191.
  • Ueda Akinari. 1974. Ugetsu Monogatari: Tales of Moonlight and Rain Trans. by Leon M. Zolbrod. George Allen and Unwin Ltd.
  • Washburn, Dennis. "Ghostwriters and Literary Haunts: Subordinating Art to Ethics in Ugetsu Monogatari." Monumenta Nipponica 45.1 (1996) 39-74.
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