Setsuwa are based foremost on oral tradition. The stories are told to each other and later committed to text. As a genre, they "[...] have in common brevity; an uncomplicated plot unfolded in plain, direct language; character delineation through dialogue and action rather than through description and psychological analysis; and a predilection for amusing, starting, dramatic, or marvelous subject matter."
The genre may be divided into two major subcategories: general and Buddhist. A number of setsuwa deal with Buddhist matters such as karma and miracles.
Setsuwa may be found integrated in other literature or in setsuwa collections. The myths found within Kojiki (712) are the oldest individual ones known to exist. The Nihon Ryōiki (c. 822) is the oldest setsuwa collection.
The setsuwa genre last until the early 14th century when it was succeeded by the otogizōshi genre.
- McCullough (1990: 7-8)
- Kubota, Jun (2007). Iwanami Nihon Koten Bungaku Jiten (in Japanese). Iwanami Shoten. ISBN 978-4-00-080310-6.
- McCullough, Helen Craig (1990). Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1960-8.
- Nihon Koten Bungaku Daijiten: Kan'yakuban. Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten. 1986. ISBN 4-00-080067-1.
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