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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 IV: Olrik’s Epic Laws of Folk Narrative: The Opening and the Closing Laws

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The present book suggests that storytellers begin their tales with an attractive opening episode in order to engage audiences (and readers) and motivate them to continue listening to (and reading) tales. The position of this hypothesis seems to contradict Olrik’s epic laws, “the law of opening” (das Gesetz des Einganges) and “the law of closing” (das Gesetz des Abschlusses). Therefore, it is necessary to articulate how the central point of Olrik’s epic law differs from the one this book discusses. This can be done by examining opening and ending episodes in order to ascertain the main theme of Japanese Animal-Wife tales. The following discussion will help clarify the similarities and differences between Olrik’s two laws and the hypothesis of this book.

In his discourse on the “epic laws” of narrative in “folktale, myth, legend, and folksong,” Olrik writes:1

I [Olrik] shall mention first the law which is certainly best known to you. The Sage [legends] does not begin with sudden action and does not end abruptly. This is the Law of Opening (das Gesetz des Einganges) and the Law of Closing (das Gesetz des Abschlusses). The Sage begins by moving from calm to excitement, ← 139 | 140 → and after the concluding event, in which a principal character frequently has a catastrophe, the Sage ends by moving from excitement to calm.2

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