Japanese Fairy Tales – Book Review

japaneseFor the Classics Club Spin #2, I read Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki. The book is a collection of 22 fairy tales translated by Ozaki to introduce a Western audience to the popular stories she loved growing up, including The Peach Boy, My Lord Bag of Rice and The Adventures of Kintaro, the Golden Boy.

After reading a few of the stories, a number of elements consistently kept popping up:

1. Old couples who don’t have any children;
2. Supernatural births;
3. Little boys who turn out to be heroes;
4. Little girls who turn out to be princesses;
5. Monsters and magical creatures;
6. Magical objects;
7. Talking animals, some that can go into battle.

Japanese Fairy Tales reflects some of the traditional morals and values of Japanese culture. In comparison to the fairy tales you and I know that emphasizes the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, from what I could understand the objective of the Japanese fairy tale is to teach patience, honesty, hard work, obedience and loyalty. Couples who are childless are blessed with a son or daughter in their old age. Hard-working men and women are awarded with riches while their envious, scheming neighbours are punished for taking shortcuts. Men who are “good” will be assisted by magical creature or objects to complete quests and destroy enemies.

In my last post, I wrote:

I imagine Japanese Fairy Tales are going to be mystical, romantic stories with a moral lesson of some kind in the same vein as the traditional fairy tales we all know. I imagine they are going to be as delicate and simple to the eye as Japanese food, music and art, but just as complex underneath.

Ha! I read Moby-Dick alongside these fairy tales and I would happy describe that book as mystical, romantic and with a moral lesson of some kind. As for Japanese Fairy Tales, I was bored to tears.

After reading the third story about an old couple that was blessed with a miracle baby, I wanted to quit the book and mark it “did not finish”. I found the stories repetitive and the characters as heroic as toy figurines. Reading this book was Grimm’s Fairy Tales all over for me. I love stories with happy endings, but I just wanted the book to be over. At least Japanese Fairy Tales was PG-13 compared to all the killing, raping and cannibalism in Grimm’s. It did occur to me that Japanese Fairy Tales comes from an oral tradition similar to Grimm’s, so it’s possible the stories aren’t meant to be read, they require a storyteller’s flair to make them come alive. Maybe the stories are not meant to be read as a collection so that the repetition doesn’t drive you bonkers. It’s also completely possible I’m too old and cranky to be reading fairy tales.

In conclusion, Japanese Fairy Tales aims to educate its audience with some of the traditional morals and values of Japanese culture. I don’t think you need an intimate understanding of Japanese culture to appreciate what the stories are trying to teach and it’s interesting to see the similarities and differences in comparison to the fairy tales ingrained in Western culture. However, I didn’t enjoy Japanese Fairy Tales and would rather read a sushi menu instead of this book. I’ll save it for the kiddies.

Rating = Not recommended


5 comments on “Japanese Fairy Tales – Book Review

  1. Julie
    July 2, 2013

    Oh you can’t read them all together and all at once and without the cute little pictures…you’ll want to poke your eye out! I recommend getting a few little Japanese fairy tale picture books written in Japanese…getting a basic understanding of the Japanese kana (alphabet) and then use your own interpretation…much more interesting that way! My favourite story is Momotaro…aka the Peach Boy. At our next play date I will wow you with my interpretation of Japanese fairy tales!


    • ebookclassics
      July 2, 2013

      Now this I gotta see! I look forward to seeing your interpretation of Japanese fairy tales. One thing that piqued my interest when poking around the internet was the use of Kamishibai story cards to teach the fairy tales and their lessons to children. I thought this was really creative and could be a fun project to do with the kids. Do you have any experience with this?


  2. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader
    July 2, 2013

    Ah bummer. Guess what? My #2 spin book was also a thumbs down. Let’s hope we’re able to read something amazing next time!


    • ebookclassics
      July 2, 2013

      Aw shucks, I guess we can’t win them all. I’m reading The Odyssey next. Any thoughts?


  3. Pingback: The Classics Club Spin #3 – 2013 | ebookclassics

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