The stories on this website have been collected directly from storytellers, and a few from written sources. The characters in them have unexpected features – they are tiny, or Deaf, snotty and smelly, or they find things hard to understand.
They come from the complex religious traditions in Japan, which are a blend of Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto ("the way of Kami") is the indigenous religion. It has no founder or sacred scriptures, but is based in a reverence for nature and its sacred spirits, the Kami, who are the Shinto gods. Kami are worshipped at beautiful shrines all over Japan, and they are celebrated in festivals.
Human beings are believed to be naturally good, but evil can be caused by lack of harmony or balance or impurity (which traditionally included mental and physical impairment). In Buddhism, disability was traditionally the result of karma, or misdoing in a past life. Hence there are – as in most traditions – negative connotations, Sometimes, as with the god Ebisu, or the historical character Fukuske, such people become talismans of good fortune. At other times they are a source of amusement. Of course, what we strive for is an inclusive and fair society where people are treated equally and valued for who they are. But again, as with all folktales, there is often some redemptive or thought provoking aspect to the stories.- and it is in this spirit that we offer these stories to be used creatively.
Telling the stories
The traditional opening and closing for Japanese folktales is “mukashi, mukashi” ( a long time ago) and “oshi mai” (that’s all). Singing often accompanies the story – you might like to make up your own songs.
On these pages you will find a summary of the tales, together with some suggested multisensory activities, and where relevant, some discussion points for older children. Translations of many of the originals were provided by storyteller Masako Sueyoshi, which I have used for my adaptations.
The stories offer great opportunities for finding out about Japan and its culture.
Some great websites are:- http://education.asianart.org
and if you type mukashi mukashi into youtube, you will find loads of great cartoons.
The beautiful illustrations by Betty Grove are copyright, but if you would like to download them for use in schools, you can contact Betty through her website http://bettygrove.com/