Sunday, January 15, 2012

JAPANESE FAIRY TALES by Yei Theodora Ozaki

Japanese Fairy Tales, also known as The Japanese Fairy Book, is a 1908 collection of traditional fables and folktales compiled and translated by Yei Theodora Ozaki.

As I understand it, this is a somewhat liberal translation; accuracy to the source material has obviously been sacrificed to a certain extent for the sake of accessibility. Interestingly, words that would not be translated today are translated here for the sake of the Western audience (“samurai,” for example, is translated “knight”). Many of these stories are not concise – they tend to meander – and some end rather abruptly. Without substantial familiarity with the original material, it’s difficult to determine how much of this is the stories themselves and how much is Ozaki’s doing, but I suspect the latter is more responsible.

These stories are, nevertheless, mostly quite enjoyable, and the differences and similarities with Western fairy tales are particularly interesting. (Wicked stepmothers, apparently, are a source of plot conflict the world over.)

Many of these stories are grim and violent, of the degree of the original un-sanitized Grimm Brothers’ tales. There are vicious revenge stories here, and the ones involving animals bring to mind Tom and Jerry (or, perhaps more accurately, Itchy and Scratchy, never mind Happy Tree Friends), even with some obvious sanitizing (“The Farmer and the Badger” is a notable example). Many stories do not have happy endings. They certainly aren’t all for small children.

Accuracy aside, Japanese Fairy Tales is a nice little collection of stories, and a decent introduction to Japanese folklore.