Myths and Legends of Japan

By Selena


  1. Introduction
  2. What is a Legend
  3. The Badger and the Magic Fan
  4. Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake
  5. The One-Inch Boy
  6. Tanuki Magic Teakettle
  7. Kato Sayemon
  8. The Snow Bride
  9. The goddess of mt. fuji
  10. Story of legends
  11. Lady white and lady yellow
  12. Conclusion
  13. Bibliography


    I have chosen to do my report on Japanese Legends. I chose this subject because I am interested in all aspects of writing and storytelling including mysterious myths from countries around the world. Legends just have a way of catching my eye. I don't know if it's just the nature of the legends themselves, or just the way the author has captured the story. I have tried to capture some legend of Japan in my own words, and I hope they catch your eye the way other legends have caught mine. through my report, I am going to share legends, the morale of the stories and how they relate to folklore and fairytales that we know. I am also going to talk a bit about the history of legends. I hope you enjoy uncovering the secrets of the Japanese culture through legends while reading my report.


    A legend is many things. IT depends on what type of person you're trying to explain it to. You get some people who think that a legend is a legendary figure, someone like Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. That is one definition. A dictionary definition. To other people, it means a story with fictional creatures. Another dictionary definition. Now, I have to admit, a dictionary is a very helpful thing for when you don't understand something. But honestly, whoever invented the dictionary had absolutely no imagination at all. The dictionary definition for the type of legend I am writing about is: Traditional story or myth. True. That's the basic idea, but it's not quite what I believe. The word they use is story. I am someone with a very wild imagination, and I believe that no matter how far fetched some legends may be, I think that a lot of them are based on actual events, probably really exaggerated, but I still think there's a slight chance that the basic idea of the story might have happened. Legends have been passed down generation after generation, so there's no actual proof that they aren't real, but on the other hand, there's no proof that they are. Oh well,It's much more fun to believe they are. I think I've kind of got off track now, but you get the basic idea, that legends are stories with wild storylines and unusual creatures. Legendary animals can be shown on articles of porcelain. I hope you will maybe think like I do after you read these legends. After all, they could be part of ancient Japanese history!

    I am going to start my report off with the legend of the Badger and the Magic Fan.

    The Badger and the Magic Fan

    Long ago in Japan, there were three children with a very special fan. But these children were no ordinary children. They were Tengu children, goblins of Japan,and as all Tengus did, they had very long noses. When they waved the fan over their noses, their noses would either shrink or grow longer than they already were. Now although the children didn't know it, the whole time they were fanning away, they were being watched. Watched by a sly badger. Badgers in Japan can turn themselves into anything they want. And when the badger saw what fun the children were having with the magic fan, he decided to take it for himself. So the badger transformed himself into a girl with a plate of bean-jam buns,which all children in Japan are fond of. Thinking nothing of it, they dropped the fan and happily ate a bun. But there were three children and four buns. So the tricky badger suggested that the children close their eyes and hold their breath. Whoever could hold their breath with their eyes closed the longest would get the last bean-jam bun. The children thought this was a fair idea, so they each took a deep breath and closed their eyes. The second the eyes of all three children were closed, the badger hurried over to the fan, picked it up and ran out of the house, set to have his own kind of fun.

    The badger came across a temple with a beautiful girl sitting inside. The girl was the daughter of the richest man in Japan. The badger waved his fan over the girl's petite nose until it grew very long. Then he ran away. The father was devastated! His beautiful daughter now looked like a dreadful tengu. The father called upon the doctors of Japan. They thought that if the princess ate thistledown, sea urchins and cabbage, it would cure her nose. So the princess ate thistledown, sea urchins and cabbage. She ate them until she could eat no more. But it didn't affect her nose at all. The father called on a witch. The witch suggested that the girl sprinkle pepper on her nose and then she could sneeze it back to normal size. The girl sprinkled pepper all over her nose and she sneezed. She sneezed and sneezed and sneezed. But nothing happened to her nose.The father yelled and sprinkled pepper on the witch. And she left, sneezing.The father sent for the thinkers of Japan. They thought that if she tied her nose in knots or bows it would look smaller. The father was in the depths of despair. Out of desperation he said,"I will give my daughter and half my fortune to anyone who can shrink my daughter's nose." The badger stalked into the room and introduced himself as a nose shrinker. And with a few quick waves of the fan, the girl's nose was small again. The wedding festivities were held immediately. The badger couldn't believe his luck! A beautiful wife that also happened to be rich. When he was snoring soundly, the tengu children crept in and took their fan. They waved it over the badger's nose until the nose grew through the clouds. Two workers were building a bridge in heaven. When they saw the badger's nose stop growing beside them, they decided it was the perfect pole for their bridge and hoisted it up. And that sneaky badger was never seen again.

    THE MORALE OF THE STORY IS: take what you deserve and only what you deserve. Work hard for reward in life. The badger took the credit for what the tengu children's fan did and he got what he deserved. Don't forget, getting what you deserve can be both good and bad.

    This story reminds me of the classic tale of Pinnochio. The badger's nose grew long when he did something wrong, as Pinnochio's nose did when he told lies.

    This next story is about how one man sacrifices his own happiness for that of the sacred Jizo statues.


    Long ago in Japan there was an old couple with no children. They were very poor. One year the snow came earlier and caught them unprepared so things were worse than usual. They didn't have enough money to buy rice cakes for the new year. The wife suggested that they sell her wedding kimono and buy rice cakes with the money they received from it. The old man reluctantly agreed and he set off into the snow to sell the kimono. He crossed the six sacred Jizo statues and apologized for not having anything to leave for an offering,but promised them rice cakes on his way back. Then he came across a woman with a basket of fans. She had been hoping to sell the fans and buy a new kimono. The old man felt sorry for her and traded the kimono for the fans. The man tried to sell the fans in the village. Nobody glanced at him. The man became very hungry.He saw a noodle peddlar nearby. The old man went up to the peddlar and offered to trade a fan for some noodles. The noodle peddlar scoffed at him and said," What would I want a fan for in the winter?" Discouraged, the old man walked away. He bumped into a chubby man with a golden bell. The chubby fellow thought the fans were beautiful and offered to trade them for the golden bell. The old man thought that someone might want the bell to ring in the new year so he agreed. But by this time the crowd had thinned out and nobody paid any attention to the little old man with the golden bell. The man stopped to talk to a young man selling bamboo hats. The young man hadn't had much luck but he wasn't going to give up yet. The old man was so inspired by the young man's enthusiastic attitude that he traded the golden bell for five bamboo hats. Then the man headed home. HE hadn't bought any rice cakes but he had helped the spirited young man. The old man reached the Jizo statues again. He had forgotten all about his promise to them. Then he remembered the bamboo hats. He went along the row placing a hat on the head of each statue. Then he realized that he had only bought five hats and there were six statues. So the old man removed his own hat and placed it on the head of the sixth statue. And he continued home. By the time he got there he was completely snow covered. His wife hurried him inside and he told her what had happened .The old man hung his head, ashamed. But when he dared to look up he saw that his wife was smiling. "You're not mad?" he asked. "No. I'm proud." "I didn't bring any rice cakes." He pointed out. "I know. but you showed respect to the Jizo statues which was better." The old couple went to sleep then, but were soon awakened by a loud thud outside. They opened the door and found a gigantic rice cake on their doorstep. Then they saw the Jizo statues coming up the hill. The statues bowed to the old couple and then left. The rice cake kept the couple fed for weeks and they had good fortune for the rest of their lives.

    I think that this story proves that unselfishness, generosity and concern for others pays. The man could have just left the statues but he was nice enough to show them respect and they rewarded him with the giant rice cake. But the man didn't do it for the reward. He did it because he was faithful to his culture.

    The next legend is well known in all parts of Japan by many different titles. I am going to tell it under the title of The One-Inch Boy.


    In Japan there was an old couple that wished for a child. They wished for a child of any kind, even if he was only an inch tall. And their wish was granted. They got a child and sure enough he grew no taller than one inch. They named him Issun-Boshi which meant One Inch Boy. One day Issun-Boshi decided he wanted to see the world. His parents wanted Issun-Boshi to have a fun life so they gave him a bowl, chopsticks and a needle he could use as a sword and waved goodbye. When Issun-Boshi came to the city, he was taken into care of a nobleman and was a servant for the princess. Issun-Boshi and the princes became good friends. One day on their way back from a nearby temple, they were stopped by a large green demon called an oni. The princess thought she was doomed for surely she could not be saved by a one inch boy. But the one inch boy acted quickly. He climbed the oni quickly and poked it in the tongue with his sword. Issun-Boshi jumped from the demon's mouth just before it turned and ran. The princess was saved! Then she made a wish. "I wish for Issun-Boshi to grow tall." The princess squeezed her eyes shut and then opened them again. But the boy was still one inch tall. Then slowly, inch by inch, Issun- Bosh grew taller until he was the size of a full grown man. Issun-Boshi and the princess were married and they lived together happily for the rest of their lives,each over five feet tall.

    This story just goes to show that looks can be deceiving but don't let them fool you.The princess thought she was doomed because Issun-Boshi wasn't very tall,but he fought off the demon and saved her. It's like saying don't judge a book by its cover.

    This is another well known legend. The format is the same in many parts of Japan, but different versions have different animals. It also has many titles. In this version it's called Tanuki Magic Teakettle.


    Long ago it is said that there was a holy man that lived at a temple in Japan. He taught holy practices. The old man took great pleasure in the ancient tea ceremonies. He liked taking kettles and fixing them up. One day, the old man bought a rusty old kettle from a shop in an alley. He took it to the temple and polished it and fixed the cracks. It was ready for tea the next day. The old man showed the kettle to his pupils. They thought the kettle was beautiful. The old man put some water in the kettle and placed it on the stove. The kettle started spinning around and around on the stove. Then it started screaming,"Oh help! Ouch,ouch,ouch it's hot! Get me out!" The holy man and his pupils jumped away from the spinning teakettle. Then the kettle grew a face, a tail, arms and legs. It was a tanuki! The holy man decided the tanuki teakettle was cursed and must not stay in the temple. So the next day when a tinker passed by the temple, the holy man said,"Tinker, you may have this teakettle for next to nothing." "You are very generous. Thank you very much." And the tinker went off with the bewitched teakettle. The tinker went home and made himself some tea with his new teakettle.Again the teakettle acted up. But before the tinker got scared the tanuki teakettle spoke. "Tinker, I have an agreement we can make. How about if you never put me on the stove, I will make you rich." Since the tinker was quite poor, he agreed. Besides he had other kettles. So the tinker took the tanuki off the stove and the next day they went to the village square. The teakettle was placed on a platform and then it transformed into a tanuki. The crowd cried out in surprise. The tanuki danced and sang and did tricks. The tanuki did this for many weeks. People paid lots of money to see the famous tanuki teakettle.Soon the tinker was very rich. The tanuki ate his favourite rice cakes every night because of the money they made from the performances. One night the tinker said,"Tanuki, I have more than enough money. You have made me very rich. Would you like to go back to the temple?" The tanuki considered this. Then he answered,"Only if you make sure that they won't put me on the stove." "I promise that I won't leave you there unless they take good care of you,don't put you on the stove and most importantly, they give you your favourite rice cakes. The tanuki was satisfied. The next day the tinker and the tanuki went back to the temple and were greeted warmly by the holy man. The tinker explained the situation and told the holy man the requirements. The holy man said,"Tanuki, I am very sorry for putting you on the stove in the first place. If I had known what a special teakettle you are, I never would have done it. Please forgive me and become part of the temple." And the tanuki teakettle was placed on a table to rest with his favourite rice cakes beside him. He is still there now.

    This legend proves that treating others as you want to be treated pays off. Then again, the holy man said he wouldn't have put the tanuki on the stove if he had known, but he automatically assumed that the magic was evil and the tanuki teakettle was hoaxed, instead of thinking that maybe it could do good. He tried to get rid of him and because of his hastiness, good things came to the tinker instead of the holy man.

    Kato Sayemon

    There once was a man by the name Kato Sayemon who lied in the palace of the shogun. He had a very relaxing, peaceful life. One day Kato Sayemon passed his wife's room and saw her playing go with one of his concubines. Then he saw their hair twist into forms of snakes from bitter jealousy. Kato did not want that to happen to him,so he went to become a Buddhist priest, for the goal of Buddha is to overcome attachment to things in this world. So Kato Sayemon ran away and became a Buddhist priest at a temple. The wife became very worried. For two years messengers looked and looked and there was never any sign of her husband. So the wife took her son and went to look for her husband.They looked for many long years and never found a trace of him. One day they came to a temple. A priest opened the door. "Sir, I am looking for my father, who I have not seen for many years. Have you seen him? His name is Kato Sayemon and he has a birth mark under his eye like mine.""No.I have not seen him. Go now." The man lowered his eyes quickly,but the son had seen it. A birth mark exactly like his own under his eye. "You are my father!" he exclaimed. "No. I am not your father. You must go now." "I know you are my father. You can not deny it. But I will not tell mother for I know you wish to stay here and that is what will make you happy. I will go now." "You are a good boy. But I am not your father." The boy smiled. He knew and his father could not change that. And Kato Sayemon watched his son walk away smiling and just for an instant he wanted to go and join him and go back and live in the house of the shogun. But he didn't. He stayed at the temple and the rest of his life was devoted to the practice of Buddha. The wife and son never saw him again, but the son knew where he was.

    This legend is one that could have easily been true. I think that the son made a wise decision by not telling his mother that he knew where his father was. Because they were fine without him and the father wanted to practice Buddha and that's what he did happily for the rest of his life. If he had told his mother, the father would have been dragged out of the temple and would live unhappily. I think that the part about the snakes growing in the hair is fictitious, but perhaps Kato Sayemon just saw the jealousy in their eyes and he never wanted to feel it for himself, so he went to the temple and tried to overcome attachment to things in the world. And I think that is why he wanted to become a Buddhist priest and that is what he did.

    The next legend that I'm going to tell is my personal favourite I think because it is dramatic and exciting. It is about Yuki-Onna, lady of the snow and it is called The Snow Bride.


    There once was a man named Mosaku that was travelling with his apprentice Minokichi. They came to a sea they wanted to cross,but discovered that the ferryman had retired to his hut for the night. Mosaku and Minokichi took the ferryman's welcome invitation to spend the night in his hut. Once inside, Mosaku fell asleep quickly while it took Minokichi longer. Seconds after his eyes closed, Minokichi was awakened by what sounded like a creaky floor. He saw that the door was wide open and a woman dressed in white was leaning over Mosaku, breathing heavily, her breath steaming up in front of her. She breathed over Mosaku taking deep breaths and then left.Minokichi ran over to Mosaku and found that he was dead.

    Snow Bride A month later, back in his own village, Minokichi was walking though the woods when he met a lovely girl by the name of Yuki. Minokichi found Yuki delightful and asked if she was betrothed. The answer was no and the two young people were wed. Minokichi and Yuki had ten children. Everybody in n the village was fond of Yuki and Minokichi's mother's last words were of praise for Yuki. Then, one night Minokichi couldn't help but notice that his wife looked like the woman who had killed his beloved master with her icy breath. He decided to tell her about the dreadful occurrence. "Yuki," began Minokichi. "About a month before I met you, I was travelling with my master and one night her was killed by a strange woman that killed him with her ice cold breath. I can't help but notice that you look so much like her tonight." Yuki's face turned cold and she glared at her husband with menacing eyes. "Yes, it was I that killed your master. You vowed to secrecy, and if it were not for our sleeping children, I would kill you know. But, it will have to wait until the next snowy night." With those last words,Yuki-Onna ran from the room,an angry expression on her face and was never seen again by Minokichi and his children.

    The next legend is about one of Japan's greatest features, Mt Fuji. It is called the Goddess of Mt. Fuji.


    There once was a boy named Yosoji. His mother was ill with smallpox.Yosoji went to a magician's house an asked him what to do. The magician advised Yosoji to go to a stream at the foot of Mt. Fuji by the shrine of the God of Long Breath. The water in the stream was magical and it would surely cure his mother. Yosoji thanked the magician and headed off to Mt. Fuji. After walking for a short while, Yosoji realized he was getting near the shrine. But there were three paths. Yosoji wondered which one to take. As he was debating over the matter,a beautiful maiden appeared in front of him and led him to the stream. Yosoji drank some of the gleaming water himself, then scooped some up in a gourd to take to his mother. Before he left, the maiden said to him," Come back in three days time. You will need more of this water." After five more visits to the stream,Yosoji found that not only his mother, but the other villagers that had been lucky enough to get some of the water had been cured. They thanked Yosoji time after time but he knew that it was really due to the beautiful maiden that had been his guide that they were all well again. He wanted to thank her so he followed the path that led to the stream.When he got there, he discovered that the stream had dried up and was no longer there. Yosoji knelt down and wept bitterly, for he had loved this maiden dearly. Then he turned around and there she stood, smiling sweetly. Yosoji asked to know her name, but she did not reply.He asked again, but the maiden just kept smiling. Then, a cloud came down, enclosed her inside, and she floated to the very top of Mt. Fuji. Yosoji knew then that he had been helped by none other than the goddess of Mt.Fuji. He had been in love with the goddess of Mt. Fuji. Then, as the cloud was raised higher and higher into the sky, the goddess dropped down a branch of small pink blossoms, perhaps a token of her love for Yosoji. Yosoji knew he would always keep the branch and remember that his mother had been cured by the goddess of Mt. Fuji.


    Legends have been passed down generation to generation for thousands of years. Who knows how they got started. I am going to tell a bit about the poetry form of legends.

    Legends were and sometimes still are told in form of a poem. In other legends that are quite long, a portion of it might be a poem. I am going to give you and example of a legend in form of a poem:

    Where in the far off eastern land
    The cock first crows at dawn,
    The people still hand down a tale
    of days long dead and gone.

    That is the opening to the Maiden of Katsushika. The poem goes on to tell how the beautiful maiden turned down suitors because she knew that she would die soon and wanted them to have wives that they could be with for the rest of their lives. Its' a good legend, but a bit hard to understand in the poetry form. The ending of the poem goes like this:

    Yes! 'Tis a tale of days long past;
    But list'ning to the lay,
    It seems as I had gazed upon her face but yesterday

    The legends in the poetry form are harder to understand but I think that they are somehow more effective. Most legends are written down and published in story form with a bit of poetry in the story.


    Chrysanthemums There once were two chrysanthemums growing side by side in a field, one white, one yellow. One day a gardener came and took a liking to the yellow flower. He offered to take her to his home and make her far more beautiful then she was now. The yellow flower jumped at this chance and waved to her sister as she was carried away in the gentle hands of the gardener. The yellow flower's petals grew long and soft and she looked perfect. Although the lady yellow was living a luxurious, leisurely life, she sometimes thought of her white sister alone in the field with no one to talk to. But then she forgot about it once the gardener came to work on her beauty. One day a man came saying he was looking for a flower to put on the lord's crest. The gardener showed the man his best flower, the yellow chrysanthemum. But the man shook his head saying that the flower had too much style and that he wanted something more simple. They yellow flower was disappointed but tried not to dwell on it. The man crossed the field with the white chrysanthemum. He came up to her and said,"How would you like to be the object on my lord's crest. We would make sure you have a very nice life." The white flower agreed and was soon planted in a small planter by herself on a windowsill in the lord's mansion. The lord and his family agreed it was perfect for their crest. So artisans came and painted the flower on all of the family's belongings. The white flower no longer need a mirror for she saw her face on lacquer boxes, robes, and the family's most prized possessions. As for the yellow chrysanthemum, her luxury was short lived. One day she felt a terrible feeling coming through her leaves and then she fell over and lay dead on the ground. The white flower was carefully conserved and constantly tended to,but the gardeners were careful not to disrupt her simple beauty for they knew that was why the family had chosen her instead of the fancy yellow one, who was now dead in a gardener's garden.

    THE MORALE OF THE STORY IS: Don't think that if you get what's coming to you before somebody else that it's going to be better for you. If the white flower had been taken instead of the yellow flower to the gardener, then the yellow flower would have had simple beauty and be the family crest. The yellow flower didn't have to do anything, she was just chosen while the white flower was chosen, but only after a bit of misery.I'm not saying that misery leads to good things, it's just that she kind of suffered and perspired and that got the white chrysanthemum a better life than the yellow.


    I really liked reading and then rewriting Japanese legends. I found it interesting to read os many different legends whether they were as simple minded as the Badger and The Magic Fan or fairly serious like Kato Sayemon. I like them all and I think that the legends that I've read are going to stay with me in my head for a long time. Maybe I'll start passing them down in my family and start a whole new generation with the Japanese Legends and all because of a report.


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