Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic by Chronicle Books
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The stories in Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic were sourced from two 20th-century texts: Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn and Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki (both in public domain), with each story accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Kotaro Chiba. Just the cover itself is fantastic!
It's no secret that I love fairytales and folktales, especially those of Asian/East Asian origin. These fit right in with the stuff I'm looking for--my only gripe is that the translator(s) sometimes sound a little too apologetic about their use of Japanese terms which aren't directly translatable. Honestly, I don't mind. That's the charm of reading stories from other cultures, isn't it? There's also the occasional stiltedness of language, but overall, these traditional Japanese stories are highly enjoyable, written in that timeless fairy tale style.
The Dream of Akinosuke: I'm not sure if there's an English fairy tale equivalent for this. When Akinosuke takes a break under a tree he is caught up in an elaborate dream where he is swept off at the behest of the Tokoyo no Kokuo (the ruler of an unknown country; or the King of Fairyland). Is it all a dream or is it a true fairy encounter?
The Jelly Fish and the Monkey: An origin story of the jellyfish, in the vein of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories. Also a fascinating first look at the mythology surrounding Ryn Jin, the Dragon King of the Sea.
Momotaro, or the Story of the Son of a Peach: In this Thumbelina/Tom Thumb-esque story, a childless couple cut open a giant peach to find a little child. Years later, Momotaro leaves his adopted parents to save a northeastern Japanese island from a band of devils. This gains some Bremen Town Musicians undertones with various animals joining him to help him in his quest.
The Happy Hunter and the Skillful Fisher: A lost fishing hook sends Hohodemi, the Happy Hunter, to Ryn Jin's realm. Ultimately a good brother vs bad brother story, where the older brother uses the excuse of the lost fishing hook to send Hohodemi away so he can usurp the throne. It's never explained why the younger brother is the Mikoto though and not the older? Also likely an origin story of why Hohodemi is said to control the tides.
The Bamboo-Cutter and the Moon-Child: This reminds me of Chinese tales of women (and bunnies) on the moon. No bunnies here, though. Also an amusing look at males who are so enamoured of a woman's beauty they say they would do anything to marry her... but then lie and cheat their way with the minimum of effort.
Ghosts and Monsters
The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi: This takes a dark turn, where a blind lute-priest is seen entertaining spirits.
Yuki-Onna: This story feels vaguely familiar--I probably came across it while writing When Winds Blow Cold--but it also follows the vein of traditional Chinese myths with mysterious (usually not so benign) female spirits/creatures who choose to stay with/marry a human man. The enchantment breaks and the spirit leaves when the man breaks their vow of secrecy.
Diplomacy: How do you make sure a vengeful ghost doesn't haunt you? Apparently by distracting them.
Mujina: Creepy faceless people story. I... dunno.
A Dead Secret: Still on the theme of ghosts, this dead woman won't leave until her secret is destroyed.
Rokuro-Kubi: Samurai-priests and headless goblins! It should be slightly macabre, but it's also quite hilarious.
The Tongue-Cut Sparrow: This follows the classic good hapless man, evil shrew wife. A good man gets rewarded by fairies, the evil wife tries to get more but meets her just rewards. I suppose there are similar themes no matter where you come from.
The Farmer and the Badger: An Aesop-like story, where the wicked badger tricks the farmer but then his neighbour the kind rabbit helps the farmer take revenge.
The Story of the Old Man Who Made Withered Trees to Flower: Childless couple takes care of beloved dog Shiro, who is magical and brings them good fortune! The evil neighbour who hates dogs tries to get Shiro to also bless him, but whatever he does turns to bad instead.
The Mirror of Matsuyama: Evil stepmother story. I said last week that evil stepmothers don't seem as prevalent outside Eurocentric stories, but here's one from Japan. Actually, the beginning as quite Beauty and the Beast; I was expecting the girl to be exchanged for something, but no. LOL.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Chronicle Books via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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