Narrating Gender Reality in Japanese Folktale Tradition
One of the most familiar and beloved recurring female characters in traditional Japanese folktales is the earthly animal in female human form–in other words, an animal woman. However, this animal woman’s great popularity in Japan rests on a deeply ingrained misconstruction in which her character constitutes nothing more than an icon that symbolizes a meek, obedient form of Japanese femininity. Such a misconstruction has long circulated widely and deeply among Japanese people, thus ensuring a perpetual mystification of the animal woman’s actual characteristics as described in the Japanese folktale tradition. Indeed, this more recent misconception of Japanese Animal-Wife tales never articulates the character’s actions or behaviors in relation to her human spouse. Moreover, it obscures the real picture of the gendered relationship in matrimony, which Japanese folktales traditionally narrated. Accordingly, various misconstrued interpretations mystify people to grasp the main theme of the tales that lies behind gender-specific behaviors of the tales’ characters.
And yet, original versions of the animal woman character did not always display the kind of meek femininity that modern adaptations have imposed on her, however sensitively storytellers have tried to embellish. It is difficult to stop the perpetuation of this misconstruction. Whenever people tell, share, and retell animal-wife tales, they propagate a misconstruction that they help to spread everywhere it is retold, unaware of their own complicity in the act. The longer this kind of misconstruction circulates unchallenged, the more elusive the image of an animal woman becomes.
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