Many of us are familiar with Grimm's Fairy Tales, or children's stories from France, England, China, India and Germany, but are less aware of similar folk tales and children's stories from Japan. Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki captures the exotic flavor, traditions and customs of this ancient land.
Published in 1903 entitled the Japanese Fairy Book, the title was changed in the 1908 edition to Japanese Fairy Tales. Theodora Ozaki was the daughter of a wealthy Japanese aristocrat Baron Ozaki, the first Japanese man to study in the West, and his wife, an American schoolteacher's daughter. The couple separated after a brief marriage and Theodora lived with her father in Japan. She worked as a secretary and spent much of her spare time collecting traditional Japanese stories. She was encouraged to publish the collection by the Scottish writer Andrew Lang, who was himself an accomplished writer of children's literature.
The twenty-two stories contained in this volume include one of the best-known Japanese tales, The Tongue-Cut Sparrow, which tells of a vengeful old woman who cruelly cuts off the tongue of her husband's talking sparrow. The charming details in this story are indeed very interesting, as many of the architectural and cultural features of Japanese houses and traditions are provided in it. The Ogre of Rashomon is another macabre tale, while the delightful Adventures of Kintaro the Golden Boy is sure to charm young and old. An interesting feature is that the author often gives the meaning of Japanese words and terms and explains many of the customs for the benefit of non-Japanese readers. In the preface she states that her aim is to bring these beautiful tales to those outside her country so that they may love and enjoy them too.
The original edition had some superb illustrations and wood-cuts by Japanese artists.