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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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Conclusion: Narrating Gender Reality behind Japanese Folktale Tradition


Folklorists have long attempted to grasp the main theme of Japanese Animal-Wife tales. Nevertheless, generations of sugarcoated adaptations misled their efforts into misconstruing gender images as actually narrated in the tales. Accordingly, those adaptations often thwart attempts to look deeply into the sociocultural contexts that helped to shape the tales at their early stage of development. Consequently, gender roles that the main theme imposes on the tales’ characters remain obscure, hidden away by the adaptations that have become so popular in Japanese storytelling communities.

The narrative setting of every Japanese Animal-Wife tale centers on married life. The animal woman’s proposal and separation begin and end every plot development. However much these plot elements originated as a figment of someone’s imagination, actual marriage customs and forms of domestic gender interaction in some way informed them. In other words, folktales are fantasy, but they arise from actual occurrences in folk life–in this case, the social and domestic affairs of the communities that create them. Understanding this position helps to open the way for demystifying gender stereotypes behind Japanese Animal-Wife tales in order to grasp the original forms of gender expression that originally shaped the main theme of the tales.

In his book “And They Are Still Living Happily Ever After,” Lutz Röhrich appropriately remarks that “[t]he portrayal of real people is the central theme [of folktales] … it is the anthropological models and basic patterns of human behavior which are the essence of the...

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