Fairy tales are a good example of a global concept, because they are prevalent in every culture. Reading fairy tales allows you to learn about a culture more in-depth, and add to the knowledge you already have through portrayal in the media. Recently, I have started to learn more about Japanese fairy tales. There are a few that I’d like to tell you about. I’ll give you just enough information to get interested in the books, but I won’t tell you everything because these stories are great to read for yourself!
Momotaro is probably one of the most popular children’s stories in Japan. If you’ve spent any time in a Japanese elementary school you’ll probably have heard of the Peach Boy and his friends. This tale is actually part of the English curriculum in some schools in Japan, although this varies depending on the prefecture. Momotaro is a boy who’s born from a giant peach. He grows up to be strong and brave, he’s a leader for his town. He teams up with a dog, a bird, and a monkey to fight the Devils on Onigashima, or Devil’s Island. This is a great story about friendship and helping others.
For the few teachers who absolutely can’t stand reading Momotaro every year, Urashima Taro is a favorite alternative. This a story of a poor family. The son, Taro, is a fisherman but isn’t very lucky. He is however a good human being. One day he sees a group of young boys hurting a turtle, and gets them to stop. The turtle is thankful and then invites Taro to his palace. The turtle and the princess spoil Taro, but at some point he must leave. When he leaves he gets a special gift. You must see what happens next!
This is another heart-warming story about a poor family that does the right thing even though it’s hard on them financially. The grandpa tries to earn money by selling straw hats, but isn’t able to sell any hats. Instead he sees jizo (statues) covered in snow, and decides to give them the hats to keep warm. At the end of the story, the grandpa and grandma are rewarded for the grandpa’s kind gesture.
This final story that I’d like to introduce to you is about doing the right thing and being awarded for that, rather than being greedy. There are 2 families: one is nice while the other is greedy. The nice family finds a dog named Shiro. Shiro is a special dog and the other family wants him. The nice family gives the dog to the “bad” family but the results aren’t the same. Throughout the story, the fortune isn’t the same for both families, despite sharing the same items.
Now that you have had a brief intro to some of the most famous Japanese fairy tales, why don’t you try reading some? They are available in both Japanese and English, and if you are studying Japanese I would definitely recommend you to try reading both. This is a great way to get to know the every day culture of Japan, rather than just the pop culture you see on TV or in other media sources.