Tuesday, 19 February 2013

古典Corner 3: Nuns go crazy on Magic Mushrooms

One of the selected translations I read recently from  the Konjaku Monogatarishu (the tale I am referring to is in the Japan (Honcho) section本朝世俗部 section of the work,  今は昔の物語 二十八巻第二十八 「尼共、入山食茸舞語)  relates the strange tale of some woodcutters who losing their way on the mountains north of the capital, encounter a groups of wildly dancing nuns, unable to stop dancing like crazy due to having eaten some ‘dancing’ or 舞茸 maitake mushrooms. The nuns invite the woodcutters to partake of the same mushrooms and lo and behold, they too start uncontrollably busting a few moves all over the mountain forests until they are all danced out and collapse in a pile of rave weary woodcutters. Well, it is a volume dealing with humourous or ridiculous stories滑稽譚and this one certainly fits the bill but could it also be a very early example of (un)holy drug abuse?
The translation I read is in Haruo Shirane ed. Traditional Japanese Literature, An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600, but it also seems to have caught the imagination of some other translators, notably an Esperanto version here . I wanted to see if I could find a manuscript version of the tale in order to have a closer look at the original text (as original as possible) but it does not seem to be a surviving part of the Suzuka manuscript (鈴鹿家旧蔵本) at Kyoto University Library. The collection of tales are from a variety of sources, some other earlier collections and possible transcriptions of orally transmitted tales not written down elsewhere, and according to the Wikipedia entry for the Suzuka Manuscript that it’s likely that it is the source manuscript from which the other later extant fragments and works originate although the whole picture about the Konjaku seems misty at best.
I wonder if there was more than one compiler or a team of compilers (a monk version/s of the Brothers Grimm either travelling around or collecting orally transmitted folk and local tales from travelers from other regions as well as using earlier collections of setsuwa) over many years and in several areas added to the work building it up into the 31 Volume beast that it became…has anyone read all of the tales contained in it?
Maitake (舞茸), or Grifola Frondosa, an edible polypore mushroom which is often found growing at the base of oak trees and common to Japan. It is traditionally used in Japanese and Chinese herbal medicine (as well as being eaten for food generally) as a regulator of blood pressure and a general tonic for fortifying the immune system. It is known in Japan as 舞茸 probably due to the undulating wavy form of its lobes suggesting a dancing image. And yet I can’t help thinking that the nuns may have stumbled upon a patch of psilocybin –rich lookalikes.

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