miércoles, 5 de abril de 2017


Mukashibanashi are traditional Japanese fairytales. The name comes from "mukashi mukashi," "once upon a time," and "hanashi," "tale/relation."

Here I will offer a few mukashibanashi about ogres, tengu, raccoons, stepparents, envious villagers, dragon merfolk... the whole megillah of yokai lore (corresponding to our Western fairy lore):

Benizara and Kakezara
Kaguyahime (Princess Kaguya)
Taro Urashima
Momotaro (Peach Taro)
Grampies with Wens (Kobutori Jiisan)
Grampy Blossom (Hanasaka Jiisan)
The Hatted Jizos (Kasa Jizo)
The Tengu's Cloak
Mount Crackle (Kachikachiyama)
The Macaque Vs. the Crab (Sarukani Gassen)


The is a version of Diamonds and Toads with an onibaba, or ogre granny (oni: ogre, baba: granny, like in Russian) and her two oni grandsons, as well as some poetry, thrown into the mix.

Mukashi mukashi, once upon a time, two stepsisters went out chestnutting in the woods outside their village. The orphan stepchild, who was the scapegoat of the household, was called Benizara (Scarlet Dish), while the stepmother's spoiled daughter was called Kakezara (Shattered Dish).
The one who came home with her bag full of chestnuts would have supper, while the one who came home empty-handed would have to go to bed on an empty belly. Needless to say the stepmother had rigged the bags for her own daughter to succeed and Benizara to be the punished one. Before dusk, Kakezara had her bag full, while Benizara, due to the chestnut-sized hole in her own bag, was left alone and not daring to return home to get punished by her stepmother. So she wandered deeper into the woods.
At nightfall, she realised it was the hour of the beasts of prey and she was even in worse danger than at home, shuddering when she heard a rustle, gasa-gasa, like a pack of wolves in the underbrush. But still she kept on walking forwards, mustering all of her courage, until she followed a light into a little cottage, and in there was an old lady spinning thread. The old lady took the maiden in, but explained that she could not stay. "You see, I'm an onibaba, and both my grandsons are oni, and I'm afraid they shall eat you alive. She gave Benizara directions back home, a casket, and a bowl of rice, aside from stitching her bag and filling it with chestnuts. "Take the nuts to your stepmother. The box is a magic box... make a wish out loud, tap the casket lid thrice, and then open it, and you will find what you have wished for. And the rice is in case you meet my grandsons on the way home: should they approach, chew some rice but don't swallow it; keep some inside your mouth and spread the rest around your lips, then play dead. My stupid boys will take the rice for maggots and leave you be."
So on the way home, Benizara heard loud footsteps and the sound of a flute, and, knowing the ogres were coming, she chewed some of the rice and spread it around her lips. Then she flung herself on the ground across the path, shutting her eyes, holding her breath, and not even stirring.
Soon, the ogres came along indeed: Akaoni, the red ogre, and Ao-oni, the blue ogre. One of them sniffed the air left and right and told his brother: "I smell human around here..." Still, Benizara kept on playing dead, even though her lungs were about to burst. "Ewww..." said the other ogre, wincing. "She's decaying already; her mouth is full of maggots!" And on they went down the pathway, playing their flutes.
When she could no longer hear the ogres' strides, Benizara continued down the path and after some time, the sky began to lighten. Just as the sun was sending its first glorious rays across the sky, Benizara reached home.  Her stepmother greeted the dawn with the hope that perhaps her hated stepchild had been eaten by wolves overnight, explaining why she had not returned home. Just then, Benizara came in and bowed before her. The girl had a sack filled to the brim with chestnuts! There was nothing the stepmother could do but take the nuts.  
It happened one day that the local summer festival or matsuri was announced, at which there was to be a play. Kakezara and her mother put on their finest kimonos, and went into town. But before they left, Benizara was given a very long list of chores. If they were not done by the time the stepmother returned, the girl would get sent to bed without her supper.  Benizara sighed, and began to clean the house.  Just then, she heard a gaggle of voices and laughing at the door. It was her friends, who had come to see if she could go along to the festival. "Friends, I cannot go." said Benizara sadly. "I have to change the bedding, and weed the garden, and sift the rice, and fill the water jars, and empty the ashes from the stove.  If I do not do all of these things before my stepmother comes back, she will be furious." But Benizara's friends were kindly and good-natured: those girls all pitched in to to the work. Many hands made it light, and before Benizara knew it, all was done. 
How pretty her friends looked in their colorful silk kimonos! Benizara had nothing but rags to wear. She wondered what she should do; then she thought about the little box she had recieved from the onibaba. So she went to her room and drew it from under her bed.  She closed her eyes and said aloud, "I would like to have a kimono." And before she had finished speaking, she was wearing one.  
It was of lavender silk, with flowers worked in embroidery all over it.  How beautiful she felt with it on! She put her hand in the pocket and found that it was full of konpeito, or hard sugar comfits. Though she and her friends ate the sweets all the way to town, her pocket was still full when the girls arrived at the festival. The play was about to begin. 
A girl in the audience was calling to her mother for sweets, and the woman tried to hush her with a slap. Benizara saw that the girl was Kakezara! She threw her stepsister a handful of konpeito.
A daimyo or nobleman in the audience observed the beautiful girl, sharing comfits with all of the maidens around her. And the next day, the gentleman sought her out.  His procession wound through the streets until the lord's palanquin stopped in front of Benizara's house. Kakezara's mother was overjoyed, believing that the nobleman must be interested in her own child. But the gentleman frowned when the girl was brought out and said, "There should be two girls here, bring out the other one too."  Now Benizara's stepmother had pushed the girl into the washtub to hide her, but now she did not dare to disobey the lord.  The shabby girl was brought out and pushed before the nobleman. Confronted with one lovely girl in rags, and a well dressed one with a scowling face, the lord decided he must test the girls to see who was the generous one he desired.  "Which one of these two came to see my performance yesterday?" he demanded.  And the mother pointed to the scowling girl in silks. 
The lord knew that she was lying so he said that they would have a contest. So he took a plate and put it on a tray; then he piled some salt in the plate and stuck a pine needle in it. He commanded that they each compose a poem, using that as a subject. In a loud voice, Kakezara sang: 

Put a plate on a tray.
Put some salt on the plate! 
Stick a pine needle in the salt; 
it'll soon fall over!' 

Then she hit the lord on the head and ran off. 
Benizara now took a deep breath, and spoke her composition: 

"A tray and a plate, oh! 
A mountain rises from the plate,
on it, snow has fallen.
Rooted deep into the snow,
a lovely pine tree grows."

And so the nobleman knew which girl had a heart full of poetry, and which a head full of nothing. So he called for preparations to be made, and Benizara was richly dressed.  The lord took her home to his palace to celebrate their marriage. Kakezara's mother watched in silence; then she put Kakezara in a huge, empty basket, saying,' Now, Kakezara, you too may go to the lord's palace.' She dragged her along, but she did it so violently that Kakezara tumbled over the edge of a deep ditch and fell to her death. And she was very sorry for having lost her precious daughter, for it was her fault at the end of the day.

This tale is type 480 (kind and unkind stepsisters); ie the Slavic Dyed Moroz (Grandfather Frost), the Germanic Frau Holle, and the Mediterranean Diamonds and Toads; but in a constellation followed by Cinderella motifs: with a lordling, or daimyo, in the role of the prince as it's typical for Japanese lore. The helper is here an onibaba or ogre grandmother, who recalls the fountain fairy and Frau Holle as crones in the Western European versions of the tale. However, in the Russian and other Slavic versions, it's Dyed Moroz and not Baba Yaga who comes to punish the wicked and reward the good maiden. Baba Yaga, however, plays the part of fairy godmother in Vasilisa the Loveliest (Vasilisa Prekrasnaya), the Russian Cinderella... which may suggest contaminatio of both tales due to contact of Japanese culture with Russians.
The name of the heroine recalls both Benio "Benibara" Amakusa in Ouran Host Club and Benio Hanamura in Haikara-san ga tooru, both of which are resourceful, dynamic, self-reliant shero characters. Englished, this name would literally be Scarlet(t), recalling the associations between a maiden in bright red and her coming of age, as seen across cultures in several fairytales (Red Riding Hood, The Snow Queen, The Red Shoes...).

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