Monday, October 05, 2009

 

Kaguyahime and Japanese Fairy Tales

I've hinted before that Kaguyahime--the story of the Moon Princess born inside a stalk of bamboo--was a big inspiration for my novel. I found this handy link that recounts the tale, along with some nice illustrations for kids, should you want to familiarize yourself with the story.



Kaguyahime had a profound effect on me as a child. Whenever it was Japanese storytime, I invariably asked my mother to read this particular book to me. Over and over and over again. There was something about the tale of the glamorous princess who was kind and beautiful but unattainable that appealed to me; we don't really have these types of stories in the west. Most princes win their princesses and certainly the princesses want badly to be won. Not so with Kaguyahime. She has her own fate, and it doesn't involve getting married. She literally answers to a higher power.

And these themes hint to me at something a little darker and more complex than the usual "happy endings" we are accustomed to in children's literature, or the old yarn about a princess just wanting badly to land her prince. I dug around a bit last week and discovered that Kaguyahime probably originates from the 10th century--some say it's the first Japanese fairy tale. The timing is interesting. Consider, for example, that Murasaki Shikibu was active, circa 1000 AD, writing her magnum opus, "The Tale of Genji."



The story of Kaguyahime has inspired numerous writers--and artists. Here, for example, is a painting from circa 1600 AD, done by artist Tosa Hiromichi. There's not a trace of the cute and childish renditions of Kaguyahime that you see elsewhere. Instead, the regal princess leaves behind her mortal life, breaking the hearts of her adopted mother and father, and the emperor who loved her so much. How's that for an ancient statement on feminism and girl power?

Finally, I was fascinated to learn how many fantastical tales Kaguyahime has inspired, and that some even consider the story proto-science fiction. Makes the magical realism in my novel feel natural-but then, there's a long tradition in Japanese storytelling of utilizing what might feel like an unusual structure, or leap in narrative to imbue a story with great emotion, or sense of mystery.

Comments:
I've never been over here, but I see you on Twitter, and clicked over from Moonie's.
Such a pretty blog. And your heritage is so interesting! Look forward to hearing more about your work!
:-)
 
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