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Japanese folklore is always interesting and usually features some supernatural animal. In many cases these animals can talk and can perform some miraculous feat like shape shifting. The folktales often have a moral or a lesson that can teach us about life and how to behave and so on…
Bunbuku Chagama (ぶんぶく茶釜) is no exception when it comes to supernatural animals. In this case the supernatural animal is a tanuki (狸), which is a Japanese raccoon. One day an old man sees a raccoon in a trap. The old man frees the raccoon out of pity. In return the supernatural raccoon offers to transform into a teapot. When the raccoon walks a tight rope in the form of a teapot, a large following appears and pays an admission fee to see this strange sight. As a result of this money the old man is no longer poor and becomes lifelong friends with the supernatural raccoon.
This is an example of a Japanese folktale where animals and humans live in harmony and benefit from each other’s presence. In other words, instead of competing for resources or habitats, both man and animal can coexist to the advantage of each other.
This next story also involves a supernatural raccoon. This story is called Kachi-Kachi Yama (かちかち山) and like the story above, it involves an old man and a raccoon. One day an old man sees a raccoon and ties it up to a tree. The old man leaves the raccoon and goes home to tell his wife to prepare the raccoon for a meal. When the wife appears before the raccoon, the raccoon changes into the appearance of the old man, thus tricking the wife into thinking her husband was tied to a tree. When the raccoon is untied, it murders the wife and chops her body to pieces. The raccoon changes it appearance again, but this time as the wife of the old man. The raccoon prepares a soup made of the death wife’s body and tricks the old man into thinking it is a raccoon soup.
Unlike the first story, this folktale is an example of animals and humans in an adversarial relationship. In the beginning of the story, the man preys upon the raccoon, but towards the end the raccoon preys upon the old man and woman. This is an example of a folktale where humans and animals live in a food chain where each one fights to survive and defeat the other.
Shitakirisuzume (舌切り雀) is a story about a sparrow and old man, and his wife. One day an old man saw an injured sparrow and tried to nurse the sparrow back to health. The wife became angry because they were very poor and what little they had was given to the sparrow. In anger the wife cut the sparrow’s tongue out and the poor sparrow flew away. The other sparrows alerted the old man and guided him to the home of the injured sparrow. In gratitude, the injured sparrow presented the old man with two baskets. One basket was large and the other was small. The old man chose the small basket because he knew he couldn’t carry a large basket home all by himself. When the old man opened the basket, all sorts of gold, jewels and precious items were discovered. When the wife saw this, she ran to the injured sparrow’s home and tried to carry the large basket home. She was warned not to look into the basket until she got home. The wife could not wait and she opened the basket before she could get home. To her horror all sorts of goblins, monsters and ghosts appeared before her.
The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t be greedy. The wife was greedy and that lead to her self destruction. There are several morals to this story, but I’m sure you can figure them out on your ownJ