Published by The Viking Press, New York in 1961 The Old Woman, the Wife and the Archer collects three short stories translated and introduced by Donald Keene. The old woman is represented in the short story The Songs of Oak Mountain by Shichiro Fukasawa, first published in Japan in 1956, which is a rendering of the folklore tale of Ubasute, this story was also adapted to film by director Keisuke Kinoshita in the Ballard of Narayama (1958), and then again by Shohei Imamura in 1983. The story is set in a small village community, Orin lives a peasant life with her widowed son, Tatsuhei, and his two sons, as she is getting older her main concern before she has to make her pilgrimage up the mountain is to see her son remarried. News comes from the next village that a match could be made with a woman of Tatsuhei's age, with this solution Orin prepares for her departure. Tatsuhei's sons make up songs from older folk rhymes to tease Orin, and other villagers use them as aphorisms 'Cleanse the heart and cleanse the senses, A companion's lot is harder than it seems. On my shoulders the weight is galling. Oh, the burden, it's appalling, Cleanse the heart and cleanse the senses' . Preparations for the summer Bon festival begin, Orin had planned to make her pilgrimage at the beginning of the new year but decides to slip out to visit the priest before so as not to cause trouble to her family. Tatsuhei wakes up too and accompanies Orin as she makes her way to visit the God of the mountain, as they climb higher up the mountain they begin to encounter the bones and corpses of those who had made the pilgrimage before, some still in the posture of prayer, the mountainside is covered with crows. Tatsuhei breaks the oath of not speaking on the mountain when he cries out to his mother, but Orin instructs him to leave her and go back down the mountain.
The Wife of the collection's title is represented with the story Ohan by Chiyo Uno, a story told in retrospect, the narrator is a man who's feelings are caught between a geisha whom he lives off, and that of his estranged wife, his affection for his wife is rekindled after seeing her again. He runs a flailing business from a shop, he sees the school children running back and forth outside of his shop, his wife was taken from him by her parents as they began to see that the marriage was a mismatch, but his wife has remained faithful to him despite their estrangement, in their brief time together they produced a son, who unwittingly visits his father's shop, dreaming that one day they will be able to sleep together again in a row on the same tatami spurns the man to make plans to rent a house for them to live in. The man's actions are observed by the twelve year old niece of the geisha he lives with, she knows that he is about to abandon them for his wife, but like him is unable to inform her aunt. Tragedy thwarts the man's dreams when his son falls victim during a storm.
Asters by Jun Ishikawa takes us back further in history, Muneyori, the governor of a province although born into a family of court poets and is a skilled poet himself argues with his father, who arranges a marriage and sends him to the edges of the province. Trained by his uncle in the art of archery and advised by Tonai (who wants to topple him from power to become governor), he suffers fools badly and with his arrows 'thirsty for blood' begins to extend their use from hunting foxes.Whilst hunting Muneyori notices a realm beyond the mountains,Tonai deters him from exploring this region, but one night he travels back across the mountain, where he meets Hetai a man who spends his life sculpting an image of the Buddha, who explains to Muneyori that the two regions shouldn't mix due to a difference in blood between the people, Muneyori vows to return this place thinking there should be nowhere in the province that he shouldn't go. On his return he encounters a beautiful young woman wandering in the forest, she returns to the castle with Muneyori. All the stories here offer an intriguing insight into Japanese folklore.