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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 VII: An Analysis of Bluebeard Story and Japanese Animal-Wife Tales

Introduction

Extract



There are many well-known stories categorized under the “Forbidden Chamber” motif (Thompson Motif Index number C 611), such as Perrault’s “Bluebeard” and the Brothers Grimm’s “Fitchers Vogel” or “Fitcher’s Bird” (Kinder- und Hausmärchen or KHM #46).1 Interestingly enough, these stories revolve around three pillar episodes: (1) the female burns with curiosity to look into a chamber that the male has commanded her not to enter or peer into; (2) she violates his command; and (3) she kills her spouse despite his own murderous intentions toward her. These stories usually close with episodes that relate to the mortal punishment of the male and the happy life that the female lives without her first spouse. These types of stories generally depict the male as a brutal, nefarious crook and the female, by contrast, as an astute and dauntless lady.

The “Forbidden Chamber” motif stories have long attracted scholarly attention for their underlying theme of socially weak femininity. In spite of their insights into the stories, many studies of the issue pay little attention to the sociocultural and historical backgrounds from which the stories emerged. So, folklorists have to pay attention to actual marriage conditions and customs, as well as marriage negotiations between a bride and a bridegroom. In Leon Battista Alberti’s book, Book of the Family (published in 1443), researchers ← 151 | 152 → can see how Florentines in the fifteenth century Renaissance period considered marriage and how husbands tried to manage wives in Florence at that time...

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