Monday, October 26, 2009


Japanese Fairy Tales: Powerful, Unattainable Women and Mischievous Spirits

Some time last year, my friend Allison and I discovered that we had a mutual love of fairy tales. I suspect that a lot of readers and writers are like this; our earliest encounters with reading, after all, have to do with fairy tales. And, as others have noted, fairy tales imprint themselves on us, informing us of what we expect to happen in a story. We expect evil to be vanquished, and for lovers to unite.

Japanese fairy tales, however, are a little bit different. Stories don't unfold the way that you might expect. Lovers are rarely united. And women in particular seem to escape from men, leaving them baffled and saddened.

When Allison asked me to come to her class at Adelphi University to talk about my book, I proposed another idea. What if, I said, I taught a little lecture on the difference between Japanese and western fairy tales? I'd read a bit about the subject, and had formed my own ideas. From a fiction writing perspective, Japanese fairy tales are wonderful because they can open up a writer to new narrative possibilities--the kind of unusual story-telling one already sees in the fiction of Haruki Murakami or the films of Miyazaki. Plus, I figured college kids would dig this. Some of them have no doubt played video games or read manga and know all about how paintings come to life, demons can pop out of earthquakes, and evil witches turn out just to be grandmothers.

I gave the lecture today to a wonderfully attentive class made up of horror film students, ESL kids, fairy tale students, video gamers, teachers and, of course, immigrants. I talked about the 8 million gods and demons of Shinto, Japan's original religion and how they are all overseen by the sun goddess, Amaterasu. I talked about how interesting it is that girls have so much power in Japanese fairy tales--even though today we still assume that Japanese women are subservient. I showed slides of "animated poop" and "Hello Kitty dressed as the sacred deer of Nara." (These things are all related! I promise!) I also threw in some Jungian psychology. It was so much fun.

And, in case you don't believe me, here is a video clip of animated poop. This is what happens in a culture when anything and everything has the possibility of being alive . . .

I take the show on the road next to Centenary College, in New Jersey, and later to the Hillside Club in Berkley, California. You can check my events page for details. And who knows? The show might continue on the road for a little while longer.

OMG, that is hilarious, animated poop!!! Unbelievable!!
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