Take fureba

Here is a tale from the Shiragi shui den 新羅殊異伝 ("Unusual Tales of Silla"), as it appears in the Tōyō Bunko edition of same.

Kim Yushin was returning to the capital from the western lands when he noticed an outlander on the road ahead with an abnormal air about him. When the man stopped to rest under a tree, Kim followed suit, and pretended to sleep. The man waited until the road was clear and then produced a bamboo tube from his sleeve. When he shook the tube, two beautiful women emerged and sat down to talk with him. They eventually returned to the tube, which he put back into his sleeve before rising and setting off again. Yushin caught up to the man and struck up a conversation. The man was eloquent and agreeable and together they reached the capital. Yushin accompanied the man to Namsan. They sat down under a pine tree to feast, and the two women appeared again. "I live on the west coast," said the man, "But I married a woman [or "women", see below] from the east coast. We are on our way to visit her [their] parents." Just then, the wind rose and clouds darkened the sky, whereupon and the man vanished.

Wizards in fragmentary legends aren't known for their lucid exposition, I know, but this one strikes me as especially egregious. If you have time to explain where your wife grew up, you have time to explain why you carry her around in a bamboo tube, and I think we all know which topic Kim Yushin was more interested in.

Masuo Shin'ichirō 増尾伸一郎, who edited this chapter in the TB edition (as well as co-editing the volume as a whole), notes that given what the man says it seems reasonable to suppose that at least one of the women in the tube was married to the stranger, but it's not clear whether the second woman was another wife or some other type of mistress or hanger-on. So many questions.

Also: East Asia and women emerging from bamboo, man. It's a thing.


  • Komine Kazuaki 小峰和明 & Masuo Shin'ichirō 増尾伸一郎 (Eds.). (2011). Shiragi shui den. Tokyo: Heibonsha.

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What I'm curious about is "whereupon and the man vanished." I'm hoping a wild and crazy event has been omitted before "and," but I fear the explanation is probably the boring "I don't know how that 'and' got in there, but I'll delete it."

Leonardo Boiko:

Carmen Blacker’s book mentions Origuchi Shinobu’s utsubo (vessel) theory. The idea is that, in Japanese folklore, power can be acquired by a period of growing and seclusion inside some container: Kaguyahime’s bamboo, Momotarō’s peach, Sukunabikona-no-kami’s gourd. They relate this to the ascetic’s seclusion in darkness (komori) and to the belief that rocks grow (like in kimigayo), because rocks too contain and develop power that swells.

OTOH this sorcerer’s harem doesn’t seem to grow or develop inside the bamboo.


Leonardo: How do you know it didn't grow? It's certainly more than one by the time Kim Yushin meets them!


I'm sorry, languagehat. You foresaw the answer perfectly.

Leo: I'd never heard of Utsubo Theory, I'll put it on my list of things to look up! Thanks!

Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur

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