The Japanese Myths: A Guide to Gods, Heroes and Spirits

Thames & Hudson. Jun. 2022. 224p. ISBN 9780500252314. $24.95. FOLKLORE
Myths and tales, interacting with Shinto and Buddhism, have long shaped Japanese culture, and Japanese mythology continues to be meaningful today (as manga and anime attest). In this book, Frydman (Japanese literature, Univ. of Oklahoma) elucidates their historical-anthropological contexts, discussing in chronological order Japanese mythology’s origins (often influenced by China and Korea), evolution, and significance today. Frydman considers the place-associations of Shinto and Buddhist divinities; devotes a detailed chapter to Buddhist deities and another to the spirit-world; and highlights iconic representations of mythic and deified historical figures, with many attractive and helpful monochromatic illustrations. The book’s endnotes, bibliography, and index will aid researchers. (A pronunciation guide would have been welcome.) Though the material is complex, the writing is accessible even to secondary students, with sidebars and interpolations to explain unfamiliar items. Frydman’s work (a good companion to Royall Tyler’s more-literary Japanese Tales) expertly explores the past and present functions and meaning of Japanese mythology and popular folklore, connecting them to government, religion, historiography, archaeology, literature, and more.
VERDICT Students, travelers, and all readers interested in the history of Japan, Japanese ideology, and the nation’s current cultural products, will find this authoritative work absorbing.
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