Week 7: India and Japan

Please choose carefully! If you can't decide for yourself, let the Fates decide... Then, when you have made your choice, you can start the Week's Assignments.

The Tales from India include three different kinds of stories: jatakas or "birth stories" of the Buddha; animal stories from the Panchatantra tradition; and Indian fairy tales - which you will probably find to be amazingly similar to European fairy tales (there are scholars who have argued that many popular fairy tales of Europe have their origins in India). Be warned: you will not find any Hindu mythology in this unit, although the Resources page provides some Hindu mythology links if you would like to learn more about that.

Here are some quotes:

When the Bodhisatta reached mid-forest the Demon showed himself. He made himself as tall as a palm-tree; his head was the size of a pagoda, his eyes as big as saucers, and he had two tusks all over knobs and bulbs ; he had the face of a hawk, a variegated belly, and blue hands and feet. "Where are you going ?" he shouted. "Stop! You’ll make a meal for me!" Said the Bodhisatta: "Demon, I came here trusting in myself. I advise you to be careful how you come near me."

The king gave him eighty pounds of mustard seed, and told him to crush all the oil out of it that day, and bring it next morning to him to the courthouse. "Whoever wishes to marry my daughter" he said to the prince, "must first do all I tell him. If he cannot, then I have him killed. So if you cannot crush all the oil out of this mustard seed you will die."

The stepmother then said, "To save my life, you must kill the seven daughters of your first wife, and put some of their blood on my forehead and on the palms of my hands, and their death will be my life." At these words the Raja was very sorrowful; but because he feared to break his word, he went out with a heavy heart to find his daughters. He found them crying by the ruins of their mother’s grave.

The Tales from Japan also contain a variety of different types of folktales, including some animal tales and trickster tales about the magical creature called "tanuki" (do you remember "Tanooki Mario" from Super Mario Brothers?). There are also some classic fairy tales - including some fairy tales where everyone lives happily ever after, but also some fairy tales that do not end so happily. Most importantly, you will get a chance to read one of the most beautiful and famous of all Japanese folktales: the story of Urashima Taro, a kind of Japanese "Rip Van Winkle".

Here are some quotes:

Quick as lightning the Tanuki not only put on the woman's clothes, but, as he was a magician, assumed her form as well. Then he took the wood, kindled the fire, and very soon set a large dinner before the old man, who was very hungry, and had forgotten for the moment all about his enemy...

When everything was ready for the feast, and the bride was dressed in the most beautiful embroidered dress to be found in Japan, the maids took hold of the helmet to lift it off her head, so that they might do her hair in the latest fashion. But the helmet would not come, and the harder they pulled, the faster it seemed to be, till the poor girl yelled with pain. Hearing her cries the bridegroom ran in and soothed her, and declared that she should be married in the helmet, as she could not be married without it.

Peeping cautiously between the wooden pillars of the chapel, he saw a troop of hideous cats, dancing furiously, making the night horrible with their yells. The full moon lighted up the weird scene, and the young warrior gazed with astonishment, taking great care to keep still, lest he should be discovered. After some time he thought that in the midst of all their shrieks he could make out the words, 'Do not tell Schippeitaro! Keep it hidden and secret! Do not tell Schippeitaro!'

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM