Yasushi Inoue — The Roof Tile of Tempyo

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The Roof Tile of Tempyo. Translated into English by James T. Araki

University of Tokyo Press, 1975. Tall 8vo in publishers hardcover, w jacket. XVII, 140 pp. Light foxing to edges, else well preserved clean and attractive copy

First edition thus

“Roof Tile is set in Japan’s early Nara period (around 700-800 C.E.), when that country was beginning to create its own system of government and develop cultural artifacts that were that much less explicitly borrowed from China and the various Korean kingdoms. Every decade or so, sometimes more, a diplomatic envoy was sent from Japan to China—a hazardous journey of several months across treacherous oceans, from which a disturbing percentage of voyagers never returned. Here, the envoy consists of (among many others) four Buddhist monks, who have been chosen to make the journey so that they might convince a native Chinese Buddhist to return with them and invigorate the domestic practice of Buddhism with that much more direct instruction. This was a tall order to fill—not only because of the perils of the journey itself, but because the monks are not convinced a local will want to follow them back, even if it is for the sake of transmitting the dharma. Their journey out from Japan is rough enough, but once they arrive in China and find themselves staying for not just months but years on end, through one tribulation after another (including being suspected of piracy and jailed for a period!), each of them in turn has their resolve tested differently. Most poignant is the tale of the monk Gogyo, a meek and socially awkward little man who has devoted his entire life to making the most faithful possible copies of the Buddhist canon from the Chinese manuscripts he has access to. If they are faced with the choice of pitching either him or his work overboard during a storm at sea, he tells them, he will go that much sooner. But the choice may be between his copy-work—faithful and meticulous, but inert—and the monk Ganjin, blind and frail but a living source of Buddhism, and for many that much more valuable”

Yasushi Inoue — The Roof Tile of Tempyo