F. Hadland Davis


Myths and Legends of Japan (1913)


Myths and Legends of Japan (1913)

Although I prefer Royall Tyler’s Japanese Tales (1987), this Dover collection is still well worth having if you like folk tales. There is a discussion and history of the Gods of Japan, as well as a section on Buddha legends, both of which were unfamiliar to me.

There was also a collection of fox legends, which immediately made me think of Erin, who loves fox stories.

Demoniacal Possession is frequently said to be due to the evil influences of foxes. This form of possession is known as kitsune-tsuki. The sufferer is usually a woman of the poorer classes, one who is highly sensitive and open to believe in all manner of superstitions. The question of demoniacal possession is still and unsolved problem, and the studies of Dr. Baelz, of the Imperial University of Japan, seem to point to the fact that animal possession in human beings is a very real and terrible truth after all. He remarks that a fox usually enters a woman either through the breast or between the finger-nails, and that the fox lives a separate life of its own, frequently speaking in a voice totally different from the human.

He also wrote about the importance of art in Japan, and the book contains several reproductions of Japanese prints, although only in black and white.

On a certain occasion a number of peasants were much annoyed by the destruction of their gardens caused by some wild animal. Eventually they discovered that they intruder was a great black horse, and on giving chase it suddenly disappeared into a temple. When they entered the building they found Kanasoka’s painting of a black steed steaming with its recent exertion! The great artist at once painted in a rope tethering the animal to a post, and from that day to this the peasants’ gardens have remained unmolested.

I particularly enjoyed his comments on Japanese Gardens:

One thing that strikes us about Japanese gardens that we do not find in England is the wonderful economy displayed in their schemes. Suburbia often makes the excuse that their pocket-handkerchief of a garden is too small to be made beautiful. Too small to be made beautiful? Why, the Japanese can make a wonderful little garden in a space no bigger than a soup-plate!

Although I like this collection, like Royall Tyler’s Japanese Tales, I would not recommend this book for young children, although for different reasons. Written in 1913 it has a somewhat pedantic style—reminding me in parts more a lecture than a book of stories. But this is still an excellent collection, and well worth reading if you love folk tales.

Published by Dover