general
Myths
Tales /märchen

Bamboo Cutter and the Moonchild

Informant: “There was an old man and wife who wanted a child, because they didn’t have one and couldn’t get one someone. The old man chopped bamboo for a living, and one day he was chopping bamboo and there was a weird light coming from the bamboo stalk. So he chops it down and he finds a baby in the bamboo stalk. He fed her and raised her. Then another day came and he just went about cutting down bamboo trees and this time he found gold inside. There’s gold and jewels and stuff like that. So he and the old women build a nice home and are really happy with their daughter.

But then she grows into a full women in like three months, and everyone is stunned by her beauty. Um… So she has all these people trying to win her hand, but she gives them impossible tasks because she doesn’t want to get married. She’s so beautiful even the Emperor hears word of her beauty and wants to see for himself, so he visits the bamboo cutter’s home. He wants to make her his wife but she is unhappy about it, so he consents to just like writing her songs and letters.

What happened next… Then she gets really sad and stared at the moon and told her foster parents that she was a moonchild and her people were coming for her. This made the foster parents really sad so he tol d the Emperor to assemble an army to fight the moonpeople so they couldn’t take her, but she told him that it was her… like her destiny to go back to the moon. The cloud descends from the moon with her moonpeople and they tell the bamboo cutter how she was put on earth to be punished for a wrongdoing. They give her the Elixir of Life, and she only drinks half and sends the rest to the Emperor in a letter and leaves on the cloud.

The emperor is too scared to drink the Elixir because he doesn’t know what it is so he sends his royals to burn it on the tallest summit in the land. But because it is the elixir of life it never stops burning. And that’s why people see smoke coming up from Mount Fuji to this day.”

Analysis: The original tale is called 竹取物語, or Taketori Monogatari, which translates into The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. It originated in Japan in the 10th century.

This story mostly follows the general traits of a Marchen tale, but the ending has a quality of a myth. With the Elixir of Life, some variations have the Emperor deciding the burn the Elixir at the closest place to heaven, which is Mount Fuji. It is thought that the word immortality (不死 fushi, or fuji) became the name of the mountain itself.

My informant was retelling this story from a picture book she had as a child.

Many Asian fairy tales have been related to people on the moon. The Chinese story of Chang-E has a similar theme in that the girl goes to the moon in order to escape marriage from a man she didn’t love. In other tales there is a man in the moon, or more commonly, a rabbit. This has to do with the emphasis Asian cultures put on the lunar calendar.

The tale of finding a child in a plant relates to the story of Thumbelina, who was given to an old lady who couldn’t have children of her own in a flower.

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