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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 V: Feminism and Storytellers

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Nowadays, when considering the gender of storytellers, people are apt to generally agree with the popular image of storytellers as grandmothers–elderly illiterate women–who live in or used to live in small villages located in mountainous regions far from urban centers.1 However, the gender of early storytellers is impossible to determine. True, some folktale collections, including those by Yanagita, Seki, and Inada, contain some biographical data on storytellers, but the collective data are too small to create a convincing study. The paucity of data prevents anyone from claiming that storytellers were generally illiterate grandmothers who grew up in rural areas.

Moreover, the gender of professional and non-professional storytellers varies according to the particular workplace and home circumstances of women and men (that is, whether they lived and worked together or separately). Interestingly enough, Kuwata, in a study of Japanese medieval history, describes evidence showing that, in the Sengoku period (the Warring State period from ca. 1478 to ca. 1573) and early Edo period (the early seventeenth century), there used to be professional male storyteller troupes. They were semi-elite, literate groups from the samurai class that belonged to feudal lords, and were called Otogishū (御伽衆) or Storytellers.2 According to Kuwata’s examination, ← 145 | 146 → these male professional storytellers entertained their feudal lords and families by both narrating epics and fantasies to their patrons, as well as reading aloud stories from books.3

In his book, Folktales Are Still Alive! (1970), Inada gives the impression that women and...

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