Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Stories passed from teller to teller

I discovered this copy of Once upon a time in Japan yesterday, left behind by a visitor. It contains the scripts of the 1975 Japanese television series Manga Nippon Mukashi-banashi in a beautifully illustrated bilingual format.

Author Sayumi Kawauchi says in his preface, "Sometimes you just want to forget theories and logic and watch something that leaves you feeling warm inside." That is what led him to produce his films of traditional Japanese tales.

Mukashi-banashi is a generic term for stories from an oral tradition, folk-tales and children's stories. "These tales are the fruits of maternal love, passed from mothers to children in Japan since time immemorial." They all begin with "Mukashi, mukashi, aru tokoru ni" which means, "Long, long ago in a certain place", and end with "de atta to sa", "or so they say".

The stories in this slim volume have similar themes to our fairy stories: Issun Boshi, the inch-high samurai, is very like Tom Thumb; there are kind old woodcutters, impossible challenges for would-be suitors, beautiful princesses, demons and all the other ingredients of children's stories the world over.

The preface closes with more heart-warming words from Sayumi Kawauchi, reminding us all of the importance of story-telling, something I will certainly be adding to my grandmotherly duties:

"These tales are lights of love, passed from big hands to smaller ones since time out of mind. May they continue to nurture humanity and compassion, linking adults and children through the ages to come."


  1. Gosh, what interesting visitors you have! My visitors only ever leave behind odd socks under the bed, or umbrellas . . .

    Fascinating book, though - thanks for sharing.

  2. I have a good collection of umbrellas and socks (unmatched) too. The most upsetting discovery after a friend had stayed for a week was 50 chocolate bar wrappers under her pillow. I couldn't decide whether my food was inadequate or that I hadn't noticed she was depressed. She hasn't been back!

    The book is really lovely.

  3. Hmm, worst one I found, a few years ago, was a squished mouse! They'd been too polite to mention they'd been visited by a small furry creature in the night but not too polite to stamp on it and leave a big mess on the carpet!!!!! Hazard of living in a rambling old house (slugs were another . . .). Funny how few people ask to come and stay these days, even though I've moved to a different house!


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