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Japanese Animal-Wife Tales

Narrating Gender Reality in Japanese Folktale Tradition


Fumihiko Kobayashi

A familiar, beloved, and yet misunderstood character in the Japanese folktale tradition is the animal-woman, an earthly animal that assumes the form of a female human. In order to articulate the characteristics that make Japanese Animal-Wife tales unique, this trailblazing book Japanese Animal-Wife Tales: Narrating Gender Reality in Japanese Folktale Tradition challenges long-held characterizations of them in folklore scholarship. By re-examining the gender-specific behaviors of both the animal-woman and her human spouse, the book recovers the sociocultural and historical contexts that underlay their behaviors to demonstrate the actual gender characteristics that shaped the original Japanese Animal-Wife tales, highlighting the assertive, rather than naïve, personality of women in early Japanese folktale tradition. This new approach to the study of Japanese folktales and culture will interest researchers and students in a variety of fields, including Japanese studies, comparative folklore studies, culture studies, Asian studies, and anthropology.
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My parents, Satoshi and Miyoko Kobayashi, always said to their children that our achievements were owed to many people’s help even though we did not know who they are. Keeping their saying, as a good child of theirs, I would like to express my thanks to those who directly and indirectly helped me give birth to this book. Without their valuable and warmhearted advice and help, I would have obtained little from the rich treasure trove of Japanese and world folktales.

My deepest gratitude must go first to Galit Hasan-Rokem and Ben-Ami Shillony, both of whom generously guided me through the long journey of this study from beginning to end. I owe a special debt to Wolfgang Mieder, who has always encouraged me to publish my work. Special mention is due, for their generous advice and sharing of ideas and resources, to Dan-Ben Amos, Cristina Bacchilega, Shuli Barzilai, Ruth B. Bottigheimer, In-hak Choi, Christine Shojaei Kawan, Bronislava Kerbelytė, Fumiko Mamiya, Elliott Oring, Toshio Ozawa, Marilena Papachristophorou, Francisco Vaz da Silva, Hans-Jörg Uther, and Jack Zipes. I also express my special thanks to Taganōsan Kōsanji (a Buddhist temple registered as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Kyoto, Japan, which permitted me to use parts of a wonderful twelfth-century picture scroll titled Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga in which rabbits and frogs happily play together (registered as one of the National Treasures of Japan) as my book cover art.

Finally, I would like...

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