To begin this review, I would like to briefly introduce myself. My name is Chris, and I am the newest member of the merchandising team at Right Stuf! I have been here for about a month and a half now and have decided to try out this whole book review thing. But why, you might ask, am I starting with a collection of childrens’ stories instead of a manga? Well, I don’t have any children, but I was a preschool teacher for about three years prior to working here. Thus, the two worlds collide!
As many of you probably did, I grew up with western fairy tales from the likes of The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Aesop, and Disney (Yes, I am including the PG-rated modern retellings for posterity’s sake). We all know these stories, so why not try some of their eastern counterparts? A good place to start would be Folk Tales From Japan: Fables, Myths, and Fairy Tales for Children by Florence Sakade and illustrated by Yoshio Hayashi. In this collection, you will find no tales of cannibalism, adultery, death, child abuse, or bodily mutilation as you might in the more faithful translations of the original fairy tales your parents used to scar you with. Instead, the majority of these tales are lighthearted, tame, and easy to understand for people of all ages. Most of these stories are about 3-7 pages long, which make for quick five minute bedtime stories for the most weary of parents who just want their hyperenergetic offspring to sleep. Though some of these stories end on a sad note, it seems very unlikely that they will cause nightmares of being eaten by a wolf or falling in love with another person after one day with them.
Among these stories, I found a few new favorites that I would love to introduce to my children someday. How to Fool a Cat is a fun romp with a humorous twist that I won’t spoil here. There is also the cosmic myth of The Princess and the Herdboy, which is the basis for a Japanese holiday called Tanabata-sama, or The Seventh Night of the Seventh Month. For some familiarity, I would recommend Kintaro’s Adventures, the longest tale in the book, which is about a young boy raised in the wild by bears, akin to Tarzan or The Jungle Book. I dare say that Disney might one day adapt this one as well. Although the one I am crossing my fingers to see a cartoon short about is The Singing Turtle, whose title alone tells you you’re going to laugh and have a great time!
Still, among these lighthearted tales are a few tales of melancholy. Urashima Taro is a heartbreaking combination of Rip Van Winkle and Pandora’s Box.Why the Red Elf Cried tells you just that, and it’s a very understandable reason for those of you who have ever lost a friend. And though it ends on a slightly happy, though confusing, note, The Dragon’s Tears shows us that the most misunderstood and lonely people just need that one friend to reach out to support them.
I could continue to describe all 16 tales collected in this book, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the other surprises and lessons you might pick up by experiencing them yourself. It has many similar elements to the fairy tales you grew up with, including magic, talking animals, and mythical creatures (especially elves, who appear numerous times). However, you might learn a few things about Japanese culture along the way. Although you may have to do a bit of research to explain unfamiliar terms to your ever-questioning youngster, there’s nothing better than to both educate and expand the worldview of children in my humble opinion. Yoshio Hayashi has done a wonderful job in compiling and retelling a diverse collection of traditional fables.
I would be remiss if I neglected to talk about the illustrations in this book as well. I’m no art expert, but the style from Yoshio Hayashi appears to be bright watercolor painting with somehow both detailed yet simple designs. The pictures look like something many people could draw but would require you to perfect the technique of watercolor painting for it to stand out. They also appear to be in an older style that makes me reminisce about these fairy tale puzzles I, and probably my mother before me, used to play with at my grandma’s house. From my understanding, this book is a beautiful hardcover reprint, since the author and illustrator passed away in 1999 and 2010, respectively. However, I could not seem to find a date it was originally published on the copyright page.
If I had one tiny nitpick for this book, it would be to include more background information. This, of course, would be for the parent’s or older reader’s reference. Even a forward to give us a little background on where these stories came from or a glossary of Japanese terms that western audiences might be unfamiliar with would help tremendously. Even so, I would say that this book is highly accessible for readers both young and old to enjoy.
Folktales from Japan Fables, Myths and Fairy Tales for Children (Hardcover)
From singing turtles and flying farmers to a weeping dragon and rice bags that replenish themselves, readers of all ages will find engaging characters and moments of magic in these beloved Japanese folk tales.Add to CartLearn More