Japanese Fairy Tales

Japanese Fairy Tales

Yei Theodora Ozaki: Japanese Fairy Tales (first published by Kelly and Walsh in 1903)

Many thanks to Digi-Book Kiadó for sending me the book!

You can read about Scottish and Celtic fairy tales published by Digi-Book Kiadó previously on BogiWrites. The Japanese tales of this volume are available for the first time in Hungarian, translated by Dr. László Bujtor. The glossary at the end of the volume helps the understanding of Japanese terms that appear in the stories. In this beautiful edition, I would highlight the wonderful eggshell-colored sheets and the ink and pen drawings at the end of the chapters, which are works by Japanese artists and make the book even more “Japanese”. In the book we can read 21 tales of Japanese and one Chinese origin, which come from collections published in the 8th and 10th centuries, and which, until their collection in the 19th century, spread only through oral tradition.

This selection of Japanese fairy tales was first published in 1903 and became available to the general public as Yei Theodora Ozaki described these stories in English. The writer’s father was Japanese and her mother was English. The girl was raised in Japan with her father from the age of 17. She studied here, but fleeing the usual arranged marriage at the time, she first worked as an English tutor, then as a secretary at the British Legation, and finally as a teacher at the famous Keio University. Several of her acquaintances recognized that she had a special talent for storytelling, so she was encouraged to write. Her first major work was the Japanese Fairy Tales, in which she not only translated the tales from Japanese, but also reworked them to make them enjoyable for Western readers. This work was followed by several others, and, continuing the tradition of translation, one of the writer’s daughters became the first Japanese simultaneous translator. Japanese Fairy Tales have been republished several times since then.

As Japan was a rather isolated country, the formation of its folk tales was not influenced to such an extent by the traditions of other people as the tales of Europe. Rather, only Chinese and Indian influences can be found here. Religion and its teachings appear in many tales, and the sea and its inhabitants play a very important role. In several tales, the mighty Sea King appears, helping the mortals with his wisdom. In one of my favorites (The Bamboo-Cutter and the Moon-Child), a girl from the moon forced to live on Earth and make an old couple happy who have longed for a child in vain. An important lesson from the tales is to be obedient and bear our destiny with patience, because if we do, we will end up receiving the reward we deserve. In the tale “Mirror of Matsuyama,” an orphaned child has to endure the intrigue of her stepmother, but in the end, her perseverance pays off and her stepmother gets to love her. It was very interesting that in several tales, the villains finally realize that they were wrong, repent of their sins, and become good. This was also the case in the aforementioned tale and in The Happy Hunter and the Skillful Fisher. In my opinion, more stories should end like this these days.