Japanese folklore

Japanese folklore

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The folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

 of Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

is heavily influenced by both Shinto
or Shintoism, also kami-no-michi, is the indigenous spirituality of Japan and the Japanese people. It is a set of practices, to be carried out diligently, to establish a connection between present day Japan and its ancient past. Shinto practices were first recorded and codified in the written...

 and Buddhism
Buddhism in Japan
The history of Buddhism in Japan can be roughly divided into three periods, namely the Nara period , the Heian period and the post-Heian period . Each period saw the introduction of new doctrines and upheavals in existing schools...

, the two primary religions in the country. It often involves humorous or bizarre characters and situations and also includes an assortment of supernatural beings, such as bodhisattva
In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is either an enlightened existence or an enlightenment-being or, given the variant Sanskrit spelling satva rather than sattva, "heroic-minded one for enlightenment ." The Pali term has sometimes been translated as "wisdom-being," although in modern publications, and...

, kami
is the Japanese word for the spirits, natural forces, or essence in the Shinto faith. Although the word is sometimes translated as "god" or "deity", some Shinto scholars argue that such a translation can cause a misunderstanding of the term...

(gods and revered spirits), yōkai
are a class of supernatural monsters in Japanese folklore. The word yōkai is made up of the kanji for "otherworldly" and "weird". Yōkai range eclectically from the malevolent to the mischievous, or occasionally bring good fortune to those who encounter them...

(monster-spirits) (such as oni, kappa, and tengu
are a class of supernatural creatures found in Japanese folklore, art, theater, and literature. They are one of the best known yōkai and are sometimes worshipped as Shinto kami...

), yūrei
are figures in Japanese folklore, analogous to Western legends of ghosts. The name consists of two kanji, 幽 , meaning "faint" or "dim" and 霊 , meaning "soul" or "spirit." Alternative names include 亡霊 meaning ruined or departed spirit, 死霊 meaning dead spirit, or the more encompassing 妖怪 or お化け...

(ghosts), dragons
Japanese dragon
Japanese dragons are diverse legendary creatures in Japanese mythology and folklore. Japanese dragon myths amalgamate native legends with imported stories about dragons from China, Korea and India. The style of the dragon was heavily influenced by the Chinese dragon...

, and animals with supernatural powers such as the kitsune
is the Japanese word for fox. Foxes are a common subject of Japanese folklore; in English, kitsune refers to them in this context. Stories depict them as intelligent beings and as possessing magical abilities that increase with their age and wisdom. Foremost among these is the ability to assume...

(fox), tanuki
is the common Japanese name for the Japanese raccoon dog . They have been part of Japanese folklore since ancient times...

(raccoon dog), mujina
is an old Japanese term primarily referring to the badger. In some regions the term refers instead to the Japanese raccoon dog or to introduced civets...

(badger), bakeneko
A is, in Japanese folklore, a cat with supernatural abilities akin to those of the fox or raccoon dog. A cat may become a bakeneko in a number of ways: it may reach a certain age, be kept for a certain number of years, grow to a certain size, or be allowed to keep a long tail. In the last case,...

(transforming cat), and baku
Baku (spirit)
are Japanese supernatural beings that devour dreams and nightmares. They have a long history in Japanese folklore and art, and more recently have appeared in Japanese anime and manga ....

(tapir), as well as sacred objects and possessed objects.

Japanese folklore is often divided into several categories: mukashibanashi, tales of long ago; namidabanashi, sad stories; obakebanashi, ghost stories; ongaeshibanashi, stories of repaying kindness; tonchibanashi, witty stories; waraibanashi, funny stories; and yokubaribanashi, stories of greed. It also encompasses Yukar
are Ainu sagas that form a long rich tradition of oral literature. In older periods the epics were performed by both men and women; during the 19th and early 20th centuries, when Ainu culture was in decline, women were generally the most skillful performers....

 (ユーカラ), or Ainu folktales.

Some well-known Japanese folktales and legends include:
  • The story of Kintarō
    is a folk hero from Japanese folklore. A child of superhuman strength, he was raised by a mountain hag on Mount Ashigara. He became friendly with the animals of the mountain, and later, after catching Shutendouji, the terror of the region around Mount Ooe, he became a loyal follower of Minamoto no...

    , the superhuman Golden Boy.
  • The story of Momotarō
    is a popular hero from Japanese folklore. His name literally means Peach Tarō; as Tarō is a common Japanese boy's name, it is often translated as Peach Boy...

    , the oni-slaying Peach Boy.
  • The story of Urashima Tarō
    Urashima Taro
    is a Japanese legend about a fisherman who rescues a turtle and is rewarded for this with a visit to Ryūgū-jō, the palace of Ryūjin, the Dragon God, under the sea...

    , who rescued a turtle and visited the bottom of the sea.
  • The story of Issun-bōshi, the One-inch Boy.
  • The story of Tokoyo
    Tokoyo is a figure in Japanese mythology. She was the daughter of a samurai named Oribe Shima. Shima had displeased the emperor, who was in an ill state of health, and subsequently banished him from the kingdom. As a result, he had to set up home on a group of islands called the Oki Islands, away...

    , a girl who reclaimed the honor of her samurai father.
  • Bunbuku Chagama
    Bunbuku Chagama
    Bunbuku Chagama is a Japanese folktale about a raccoon-dog, or tanuki, that uses its shapeshifting powers to reward its rescuer for his kindness.-Story:...

    , the story of a teakettle which is actually a shape-changing tanuki.
  • The story of the wicked fox-woman Tamamo-no-Mae.
  • Shita-kiri Suzume
    Shita-kiri Suzume
    , translated literally into "Tongue-Cut Sparrow", is a traditional Japanese fable telling of a kind old man, his avaricious wife and an injured sparrow...

    , the story of the tongue-cut sparrow.
  • The story of the vengeful Kiyohime
    According to Japanese folklore, was the daughter of a village headman or landlord named Shōji, on the Hidaka riverbank...

    , who became a dragon.
  • Banchō Sarayashiki
    Bancho Sarayashiki
    is a Japanese ghost story of love separated by social class, broken trust and broken promises, leading to a dismal fate.The story of Okiku and the Nine Plates is one of the most famous in Japanese folklore, and continues to resonate with audiences today....

    , the ghost story of Okiku and the Nine Plates.
  • Yotsuya Kaidan
    Yotsuya Kaidan
    Yotsuya Kaidan , the story of Oiwa and Tamiya Iemon, is a tale of betrayal, murder and ghostly revenge. Arguably the most famous Japanese ghost story of all time, it has been adapted for film over 30 times, and continues to be an influence on Japanese horror today.Written in 1825 by Tsuruya Nanboku...

    , the ghost story of Oiwa.
  • Hanasaka Jiisan
    Hanasaka Jiisan
    Hanasaka Jiisan is a Japanese fairy tale. Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford collected it in Tales of Old Japan, as The Story of the Old Man Who Made Withered Trees to Blossom. Andrew Lang included it, as The Envious Neighbor, in The Violet Fairy Book, listing his sources as Japanische...

    , the story of the old man that made the flowers bloom
  • The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
    The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
    , also known as , is a 10th century Japanese folktale. It is considered the oldest extant Japanese narrative and an early example of proto-science fiction....

    , about a mysterious girl called Kaguya-hime who is said to be from the capital of the moon.
  • The Tale of the Gallant Jiraiya
    Jiraiya , the title character of the Japanese folktale Jiraiya Gōketsu Monogatari , is a ninja who uses shapeshifting magic to morph into a gigantic toad. The heir of a powerful clan in Kyūshū of the same name, Jiraiya fell in love with Tsunade, a beautiful young princess who masters snail magic...

     or Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari (児雷也豪傑物語)

The folklore of Japan has been influenced by foreign literature as well as the kind of spirit worship prevalent all throughout prehistoric Asia. Some stories of ancient India
History of India
The history of India begins with evidence of human activity of Homo sapiens as long as 75,000 years ago, or with earlier hominids including Homo erectus from about 500,000 years ago. The Indus Valley Civilization, which spread and flourished in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent from...

 were influential in shaping Japanese stories by providing them with materials. India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

n materials were greatly modified and adapted in such a way as would appeal to the sensibilities of common people of Japan in general, transmitted through China and Korea.

The monkey stories of Japanese folklore have been influenced both by the Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

Indian epic poetry
Indian epic poetry is the epic poetry written in the Indian subcontinent, traditionally called Kavya . The Ramayana and Mahabharata, originally composed in Sanskrit and translated thereafter into many other Indian languages, are some of the oldest surviving epic poems on earth and form part of...

The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon , considered to be itihāsa. The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India and Nepal, the other being the Mahabharata...

 and the Chinese
Chinese literature
Chinese literature extends thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to the mature fictional novels that arose during the Ming Dynasty to entertain the masses of literate Chinese...

 classic The Journey to the West. The stories mentioned in the Buddhist Jataka
The Jātakas refer to a voluminous body of literature native to India concerning the previous births of the Buddha....

 tales appear in a modified form throughout the Japanese collection of popular stories.

In the middle years of the twentieth century storytellers would often travel from town to town telling these stories with special paper illustrations called kamishibai
Kamishibai , literally "paper drama", is a form of storytelling that originated in Japanese Buddhist temples in the 12th century, where monks used emakimono to convey stories with moral lessons to a mostly illiterate audience....