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Japanese Fairy Tales

Region: East Asia, Japan

Author: Folktales in English rendition and retelling by Yei Theodora Ozaki

Original Language: Japanese

Translator: Yei Theodora Ozaki

Character: Princess Moonlight

Genre: Folktales

Descriptors: animals; emperors; goblins; knights; ogres; princes; princesses; sea monsters

Age: 12 + years old


Japanese Fairy Tales is a collection of 22 Japanese fairy tales translated and compiled by Yei Theodora Ozaki in 1908. Found in this collection are traditional Japanese fairy tales and some classic stories, such as “The Bamboo-cutter and the Moon-child.” This charming story is about an elderly bamboo-cutter who finds a tiny, glowing girl sleeping inside of bamboo. The man brings her home and raises her as his own daughter and names her Princess Moonlight. She grows up to be a beautiful and kind young woman who is loved by everyone. Five knights try to win her hand in marriage, but not wanting to get married, she tricks them by sending them on impossible missions to gather five legendary items: a stone bowl that once belonged to Buddha, a branch from the tree on top of the Mountain of Horai, skin from the fire-rat, a stone front the head of a dragon, and a shell from the stomach of the swallow. It is then revealed that Princess Moonlight is from the moon and was sent to Earth as a temporary punishment. Despite wanting to stay with the bamboo-cutter, she is taken back to the moon upon a chariot.  The stories in Japanese Fairy Tales are not literal translations of the original Japanese folktales. Ozaki mentions in the preface that she added “touches of local color or description” and details from other versions of these tales to make the stories more interesting and accessible for Western audiences. While there is a mention in the preface that her original collection had illustrations, there are not any included within this copy. The entire collection consists of text and small print, which younger audiences may have a hard time engaging with. Furthermore, these stories contain many Japanese cultural references that may need to be explained to children from Western audiences. This copy incorporates Japanese vocabulary into the text and is followed by an English translation of the word in parenthesis. Based on the fact that this collection is very text-heavy, contains complex vocabulary and sentence structures, and has some mature content, it is most suitable for children 12 years and older.  

More About This Book

Reviewed: print book by Praeteritus Books (2017). ISBN: 9781975654634.  166 p.

Notes: Only some of these stories have been read for the purpose of this review.

Content warning: Some of these stories have violent descriptions of death and mentions of cannibalism. One of the stories in the collection, “Momotaro, or the Son of a Peach,” while an important story in Japanese folklore, was used as war propaganda in the Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, and World War II. In this tale, Momotaro goes to fight an “Island of Devils” who are disobeying the emperor. Ozaki’s translation of this tale closely follows the version by Iwaya Sazanami written in 1894, who altered details of the folktale so that the “evil” demons in the story would be recognized as Qing China.

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Reviewed by Leah Byrnes

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