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Mukashi-Banashi: Japanese Folktales

Mukashi-banashi is a collection of fairy tales that have been popular in Japan for hundreds of years, mostly written by anonymous authors. The following are four of the folk tales.

Issun Boshi

Issun Boshi, a boy named after his height Issun (3cm), went to the city by paddling up the river with a bowl and a chopstick and started working for a wealthy man as a guard for his beautiful daughter. Though he was small, he trained himself very hard and became strong. One day, an Oni (demon) came down to the city and attacked the people. Issun Boshi battled with the demon using a needle as his sword. He quickly moved into the demon’s mouth and struck the demon’s throat
and stomach with his needle. Because of the extreme pain, the demon begged him for forgiveness saying he wouldn’t come back again. When the daughter came close to thank him for his help, she spotted an Uchide no Koduchi (Magic Hammer) on the ground that granted any wish and Issun Boshi wished to be bigger. He became big and famous for his braveness and he and the daughter married and lived happily ever after.

Saru-Kani Gassen

A hungry, pregnant crab found a rice ball on the road. A monkey who was passing by told her that she should trade the rice ball with his persimmon seed so that she could feed her babies when it bore fruit. The crab gave the rice ball to the monkey and planted the persimmon seed. When the fruit appeared on the tree, the monkey came back to eat the persimmons. When the crab asked him to get some for her, he threw an unripe green one at her and killed her. The crab babies cried for their mother out loud and were heard by a bee, a stone mortar, a cow dropping, and a chestnut. All decided to help the babies punish the monkey. They went to the monkey’s house and hid inside while he was out. When the monkey came home and got closer to the fireplace, the chestnut popped, jumped, and burnt him. Afterwards, the bee hidden in the tub came flying and stung him and the babies jumped out from the water pot to pinch him. The monkey ran out of the house and slipped on the cow dropping and fell down. Lastly, the stone mortar jumped down smashing him.

Kachi-Kachi Yama

A raccoon caught by an old man for stealing vegetables on his field was released by his wife because she felt sympathy towards the captured animal. However, the raccoon was angry and he attacked and killed her. A rabbit who was the wife’s friend found out and wanted to avenge her death. One day, he and the raccoon went into the woods to gather firewood and on the way home, the rabbit sneakily lit the firewood on the raccoon’s back burning him badly. Then the rabbit offered medicine for the burn, but instead he rubbed chili paste on the burn. A few days later, the rabbit took the raccoon out fishing and told him to make a boat out of mud. The raccoon made the mud boat and then went out to sea where it sank drowning him.

Urashima Taro

A fisherman named Urashima Taro saved a turtle being toyed with by children on the shore. The turtle, in return, took him to an underwater castle, where he was entertained sumptuously with delicious food and beautiful dances, and given a beautiful box as a souvenir by the princess. When he came back to his house in town a few days later, he found that everything was very different in the town and that actually a hundred years passed. Urashima Taro opened the souvenir box in the hopes that he might be able to return to the castle, but only white smoke came out from the box turning him into an old man with gray hair and a beard.