to Japanese folktales
this project I retell various Japanese legends and folktales that I have seen
used or referred to in different Japanese animation (anime) that I have watched.
As a big fan of anime, I have personal experience with how confusing
little cultural details and story plot backgrounds can be at times. Part
of understanding these animated TV shows or movies is knowing various cultural
fine points and some Japanese folklore. However, I don't think this
understanding is necessary for a person to enjoy an anime series.
Just look how popular anime is becoming in the United States even with people
who know very little about it! (These days you can turn on Cartoon
Network from 10PM - 1AM (Central Time) on Sundays through Thursdays and see
hit anime series such as Trigun, Inuyasha or Cowboy Bebop. And more
are on the way soon!) But I think comprehending some Japanese culture
and reading a few of their folktales can only enrich and assist your enjoyment
of these shows.
this in mind, the focus of my storybook project has been to retell stories
and legends that inspired various Japanese animations I've seen. I
asked myself what tales or mythological figures appearing
in a certain show deserved an explanation through a storytelling session, and then told the stories
here accordingly. Some of my stories don't focus on specific anime,
instead they retell a folktale with the aim of furthering the viewer's general
understanding of Japanese culture. I also want to make it clear
right now that not all these shows are for kids; they often have continuous
and twisting plotlines, deeply thought-provoking and entrenched in Japanese
culture. Thus proving cartoons are for big people too! Hopefully this project
will help other people get excited about my favorite hobby, watching anime!
Well, that just about
sums it up, I guess. I hope you find these tales interesting and informative!
I plan to continue to update this page as time permits. :o)
for all my anime watching buddies who've come here after hearing me babble
about some folklore background to a show, thank you very much!)
Story 1: Kaguya-Hime or Taketori Monogatari, "The
Bamboo Cutter's Tale". This is an ancient Japanese
fairytale about a kindly old man and woman, unable to have children, who find
a mysterious princess one day inside of a stalk of bamboo. They raise
her, only to discover that in the end, she is not from this world. Will
she have to leave them and return to her original people?
This tale has shown
up in many series, the most well known being probably Sailor Moon. I
was inspired to tell it since in one episode of Daa!Daa!Daa! the characters
put on a play about Kaguya-hime, or the “Princess from the Moon”, which
is well-known in Japan. But the episode is only funny because of the
mistakes in how they put on the play. For an American audience, not
knowing the story might make it hard to grasp all the humor.
Story 2: Bunbuku Chagama, a story about a Tanuki
with the magical power to transform into anything he pleases. Posing
as a Tea-Kettle, he scares an unsuspecting priest and causes other sorts
of mischief. But the Tanuki is not mean-spirited. He's just a
food and fun loving creature, and when he is treated well by a fisherman,
they become friends, both ending up better off than before.
A Tanuki is a real animal
from Japan, that was given mythological connotations over time. While this specific folktale
does not show up in any anime I've seen, the Tanuki as a creature appears
or is referred to regularly in anime. Understanding its supposed
powers of transformation, mischievous and food loving nature, and the good
luck it is said to bring to merchants and stores, will help viewers understand
the status Tanuki have in Japanese culture.
Story 3: The Story of Prince Yamato Take. This
story was originally from the Kojiki, a collection of Shinto myths
and origins of Japan, dating from 712 A.D. Yamato Take was supposedly
the son of one of the first Emperors in Japan, and his exploits are explored
in much greater detail in the Kojiki. Here I retell his earliest days,
when he faithfully helps his father rid the countryside of some evil bandits
through his own swordsmanship and a little bit of deception.
I included this story
(out of ALL the ones I could have picked, sheesh...) because Yamato-Take demonstrates
many of the qualities that appear in the samurai tradition as well. And
certainly, understanding the idea of the Samurai will really increase a viewer's
understanding of Japanese culture. In fact, there is no way that I
could have possibly done it justice with this one very general, background
story. I hope you all go read more on your own...
Story 4: Mushi Mezuru Himegimi or "The Princess
Who Loved Insects". This is a fairytale, although incomplete, in
a collection of tales dating from 1271. The little princess here shows
no interest in doing things accepted by her society. She loves insects
not just butterflies, and seeds not just flowers. She refuses to let
things scare her, and she wants to see the world as a beautiful wonderous
place to live in, not a place bound by traditions and rules.
In the story she exemplifies
some Buddhist concepts the Japanese held and gives the reader a small taste
of what life for a woman must have been like in Heian era Japan. Also this
story was used as an inspiration and a background to the film Nausicaa, showing
us the Japanese are still captivated by this mysterious princess and her unfinished
story, just like I was when I read it!
Story 5: Urashima Taro. This is a popular
Japanese folktale about a fisherman who saves the life of a turtle, and in
return for his unnecessary kindness he is transported away to the bottom
of the sea to visit the Dragon Palace. He falls in love with the beautiful
princess there, but eventually yearns to return home as well. She allows
him to leave on one condition - that he never open the box she gives him
as a keepsake. Well, I'm sure we all know how this goes...
Since this story is
really well-known in Japan, I've seen it used or referred to in many animes,
like RahXephon and Urusei Yatsura. Urashima Taro is a bit similar
to Washington Irving's character, Rip Van Winkle. As a result the story
is usually invoked when animes use time-travel or to show how characters
are lost and confused by that sort of thing.
Story 6: Hagoromo, or "The Celestial Robe of Feathers".
This tale is similar to various other cultures' "animal bride" stories.
A fisherman sees a beautiful celestial maiden bathing in a lake, and
he steals away her robes while she isn't looking. Then he forces her
to marry him if she wants to get them back, but eventually she finds her robes
and is able to fly away back to her home in the sky.
There are lots
of different versions of this tale, even within Japan, but I retold this one
similarly to the way it is depicted in the anime Ayashi no Ceres.