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Japanese Animal-Wife Tales

Narrating Gender Reality in Japanese Folktale Tradition

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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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Appendix II: Seki’s Tale-Types of Japanese Animal-Wife Tales

JT 110: The Snake-Wife Tale-Type

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The following seven tale-types from Japanese Animal-Wife tales are based on Seki’s Corpora of Japanese Folktales.1 Similar to Inada’s tale-type index, Seki’s tale-type classification rests on the species of animal women in each story.2 All the tale-types except the Cat-Wife tale-type (JT 117) mutually share the same episodic structures and the four-pillar episodes (which the present book suggests). The episodic structure of this Cat-Wife tale-type differs from that of other tale-types because the story ends with the couple’s eternally happy life.

In his explanation of the Cat-Wife tale-type, Tsuda says that a number of recorded oral texts that follow the Cat-Wife tale-type are smaller than that of any other animal-wife tale-type.3 Seki includes only one oral text and one variant of the Cat-Wife tale-type in his folktale tale-type index. This variant’s episodic structure ends with the couple’s separation and thus resembles that of Inada’s Cat-Wife tale-type. Based on other oral texts, Yanagita categorizes the Cat-Wife tale-type into the Japanese Ogress tale-type in his Collection of Japanese Folktales.4 Referring to one variant of Seki’s Cat-Wife tale-type, ← 131 | 132 → Kawai points out that this variant is “a peculiar fairy tale” because “it ends happily in marriage,” saying:

Though this [Cat-Wife tale] is an extremely rare story in Japan, its pattern differs from stories in the West, in which a human being is transformed into an animal and then recovers its original form through marriage. I [Kawai] question how far we can treat the story as an...

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