The Main Piece
When one looks up at the moon some say that they can see a rabbit made out of the craters on the moon. My informant, Demie, has told me that her family would often tell her the story of how the rabbit got to the moon. There were three gods and one of them lived on the moon. They all came down to Earth to look for food. There, they met a monkey, a fox, and a rabbit. They asked each to find them some food and while the monkey and the fox were able to get them food, being the cunning and quick animals that they are, the rabbit was unable to get them any food. The rabbit felt so bad that it offered itself up for food for the gods. The moon goddess was so touched by the rabbit’s generous act that she took it up with her to the moon to live with her. The story is told to represent selflessness and generosity.
My informant is Demie Cao a current undergraduate student at USC and friend of my close friend, Elizabeth Kim. She enjoyed hearing this story from a young age because her favorite animal was the rabbit, therefore it was incredible to think that she could simply look up and it would be right there on the moon. Her father and mother would tell her the story from time to time and she would be reminded of the story whenever she would look up at the moon and see a rabbit. It is a symbol of her childhood and part of her culture as well.
I was told this story as she, Elizabeth, and I were discussing folklore in her room. The conversations were casual as we relaxed in my dormitory. We were simply sharing stories, laughing at our own pasts.
Hearing how a culture explains visuals in nature reveals a lot about the way they think in terms of who and what they respect. In this instance it is obvious that religion and moralistic values are an important part of their society. I felt the story did well in being able to instill these values in children from an early age and was a memorable story for all to remember.
The informant is a 21-year-old college student who was born in France, and continued to live there until moving to the United States at age 15. His native language is French, and he did not learn English until after moving to the US.
I asked the informant to grab a cup of coffee on campus, and asked if he could share any French proverbs with me.
The proverb, in French, that he chose to share is: “Qui recherche la lune ne voit pas les étoiles.”
The English translation he provided is: “Someone who looks for the moon misses the stars.”
He said that the proverb is used as a small piece of advice used to let someone know that “if you try to accomplish something that’s near impossible to do, you will miss the things that are possible and that you can do.”
I thought that this proverb was a nice reminder to keep realistic expectations and not worry about factors in life that are outside of our control. It sounds very beautiful when spoken in French, and so I can see how this proverb’s aesthetic quality coupled to its meaning would make it popular among those who speak the language. Following my conversation with the informant, I would love to expand upon my knowledge of the French language and continue to learn more of the proverbs used by those who speak it.
The informant learned the following legend while studying abroad in Taiwan, and told it to me while recounting her experience at National Taiwan University.
“At National Taiwan University, there’s a big lake in the middle of campus, and it’s called Drunken Moon Lake, and the story is that there was a woman who was I think rejected by her lover, for some reason couldn’t be with her lover, and she drowned herself in the lake and I’m not sure how long ago it was, so they believe that a ghost is an unhappy spirit, like an unrestful soul. And they believe that she lives there on the lake. So there is a pagoda in the middle of the lake that doesn’t have a bridge to it, there’s no way to get to it, so there’s just birds there, and they believe that she lives there with other unhappy female ghosts, female sprits, and that if you’re a man, you should not walk by the lake, especially at like sunset or dusk. And if you do walk by the lake, you should definitely not talk to any woman because it could be an evil spirit trying to seduce you and she’ll drag you into the lake with her. Or else, if she doesn’t drag you into the lake, she could also go with you and pretend to be your wife or your girlfriend, but she’ll continue to bring bad things into your life and continue to haunt you without you knowing. And you’ll think you’re in love with her and meanwhile she’s destroying your life. So yeah, don’t find a girlfriend at Drunken Moon Lake”
The informant learned of this legend gradually over her time studying abroad in Taiwan, as whenever she would be around the lake, other people would warn her and tell her about the ghost that resided in it. She received pieces of the story in both English and Mandarin from different people.
The informant did not mention anything regarding the origins of this tale, or why people believed it, but it seemed to be taken quite seriously. Like many other horror tales and legends, maybe its origins had some practical application. Perhaps it was meant to deter young men from approaching the lake for some reason. Perhaps someone wanted to keep them away from flirting with the women around the lake, or keep them from trying to swim in the lake.
Informant C is 20 year old and studies Journalism. She is half Turkish and speaks Turkish as well. Her mom is Turkish and is from the Eastern Turkey area, about 200 miles west of Syria. Her entire family is scattered over Turkey and have resided in Turkey for many generations. Many of them are involved in agriculture.
People are very mystical about the moon. If there’s like a really really bright moon its considered really good luck especially in the country where you can see the stars and everything. So if the moon outshines the stars that means one of the best things that’s going to happen in your life is going to happen soon. The moon is so mysterious and unknown, and it probably represents something for everyone. So people in Turkey are also really fascinated with babies. And if like a really little baby is born, they’ll like put the baby on the shovel and put it out in the moonlight. And they say like ‘Make my baby stronger’ and it’s like a whole kill the baby or make him stronger. They think that the moon is like curing this baby, it is bizarre. It’s such a strange area. And another thing like if you put the back of a shovel in the moonlight and if it reflects a certain way then you’ll have this many more days of good crop. There’s so many things with the moon. They truly believe it and really do the shovel thing with the children.
Analysis: Here informant C tells about some of the rituals that involve the moon in Turkey. She says that the moon is mystical and mysterious and that inspires the large amount of folklore about it, as is also seen in other cultures. Also in Turkey, the people are prized for being strong and independent, which explains why the parents would want their babies to be big and strong, so they put them out under the moon. This is similar in some ways to older customs in Sparta where children were required to prove their strength from a young age. She also talks about how the moon inspires some agricultural predictions about how the crop will be, since agriculture is so important for this area.
For more about Turkey’s Black Sea region and their folklore, including placing a baby on a shovel, see
Wise, L. (2013, February 23). Folklore and Superstitions of the Black Sea. Retrieved April 30, 2015, from http://www.brighthubeducation.com/social-studies-help/15017-superstitions-and-traditions-in-turkeys-black-sea-region/
About the Interviewed: Jared is a sophomore at the University of Southern California, studying Finance. At the time of this interview, he is also my roommate. His ethnic background is distinctively Chinese, and his parents are first-generation American immigrants. He is 20 years old.
Jared: “My family celebrates unique traditions. We celebrate Chinese New Year, and we celebrate the Moon Festival.”
I ask him to explain the Moon Festival to me in greater detail.
Jared: “It’s pretty festive. My family decorates the place up. It’s a festival that’s centered around the moon, so you get a lot of festive stuff like that. The moon is symbolic of things like harvest and prosperity, so that’s where I guess it comes from. It happens around August – September, whenever the full moon is.”
I asked Jared about his experiences with the Festival. I ask him about any special foods he might eat.
Jared: Yeah, there are snacks. There’s this thing called mooncake, it’s kind of chewy – like mochi [japanese chewy sweet], it’s good, I like it. I have a lot of good memories of the Moon Festival. I’d say it’s nostalgic. As for other things, we sometimes play games. Like most things in Chinese culture, it’s pretty much centered around the family, so we spend a lot of time together.”
I tell Jared that I’m aware that Korea celebrates the Moon Festival as well. I was curious if he knew of any specific differences between the two.
Jared: I’m not entirely sure about all the differences, but I think they’re pretty similar. My Korean friends seem to know what I’m talking about when I talk about when I mention it.
As a Chinese-American, Jared celebrates a holiday known as “The Moon Festival”, which celebrates a general coming of the moon and the harvests that follow. He recounts nostalgic experiences with food, games, and family.
My roommate’s experience with the Moon Festival is not unlike the nostalgia most people associate with Western holidays like Halloween or Christmas. The use of the “festival” in different cultures holds a great significance to the individual. It’s “nostalgia” that in part motivates tradition to spread from one generation to the next.
햇님 하고 달님
He is in his late 40’s and works as a car mechanic. Born in Incheon, South Korea, he immigrated to the United States after he married in the late 1990s. He heard this story as a young child for a bedtime story from his mother.
엄마가 가난하고 돈을 벌려고 떡을 파는거야 길 거리에서. 하지만 그 날에는 하나도 못 팔았어. 집으로 돌아가는중에 호랑이가 나타나. 그 호랑아가 노래를 불러 “떡 하나만 던저주면 안 잡아먹지.” 그래서 엄마가 떡을 하나 던져줬지. 그걸 먹고 또 노래를 불렀어, 똑같이, 떡이 없어질때까지. 떡이 없으니까 호랑이가 이렇게 노래를 불렀지 “팔 하나 주면 안 잡아 먹지.” 그래서 엄마 호랑이에게 팔을 하나 줬지. 그리고 하랑이가 이렇게 팔 두개 하고 다리 두개 다 먹었어. 결국엔 엄마를 조금식 다 잡아먹었어. 엄마가 사는 집에 도착해서 엄마 모습이로 변신한거야. 아이들한테 불렀지 “엄마다 문 열어라.” 엄마 목소리가 이상해서 아이들이 조심했다. 엄마 모습을 가진 하랑이한테 팔을 보여달라고했어. 아이들이 “우리 엄마는 팔에 털이 잆어요!” 라고 얘기했다. 그래서 그 하랑이는 팔에있는 털을 깎았어. 그렇게 천천히 아이들이 호랑이의 힘을 빼넣고 살았다.
There is a mother who needs to sell dduk (rice cakes) but she was not able to sell any. On her way home a tiger approaches her and sings out to her “If you give me one dduk then I won’t eat you.” This is repeated until all of the dduk is gone. The tiger then says “If you give me an arm I won’t eat you.” After she gives him both arms he sings “If you give me a leg I won’t eat you.” And so the tiger devoured the mother piece by piece. The tiger approaches the house of the children and transforms into the mother. He calls out to the children to open the door. The children are wary because the voice doesn’t sound like their mother’s. They ask the tiger to insert its hand. It is furry. They tell the tiger that their mother doesn’t have any fur on her arm so the tiger shaved off all of its fur. In this way the children outwit the tiger and tires it out so that the children eventually capture it.
The story is meant to tell a moral. How the mother is tricked into giving herself up the tiger, the tiger is then tricked into giving up its life for greed. The tiger could have been content with the dduk offered to him, but it was not and devoured the mother. In turn, karma of a sort comes back at him as he is captured when he attempts to eat the mother’s children. From his side, he is greedy and desires another meal after essentially eating two. The tiger happened to be cleverer than the mother and the children happened to be cleverer than the tiger. The morale of the story is that what goes around truly does come around.
A different version of this story can be found at: http://mirror.enha.kr/wiki/햇님달님. The story is in Korean and differs in many detailed aspects. The incident occurs at night in this different version instead of day time, the mother sells bread instead of dduk (rice cakes), and the ending is different. As this story occurs at night, it ends with the coming of morning (sunrise). The death of the tale synchronizes with the sunrise, and the redness in the sky is said to be the staining of the tiger’s blood.
If you point your finger at the moon, you would anger the moon, and the deity living on the moon will slice off your ear when you sleep.
The informant is not sure why this is so or who the deity living on the moon is. However, this superstition may be rooted in respecting the deities, and could possibly be linked to the myth of Cháng’é (嫦娥), the Chinese goddess of the moon. She lives on the moon because she had swallowed the elixir of life and became light, floating away from the earth. Her husband Hòu Yì (后羿) was a mortal archer known for shooting down nine of ten suns that were scorching the earth. Cháng’é lives on the moon with a jade rabbit.
It is interesting to note that pointing is disrespectful in cultures all around the world.
Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and PPD major. He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. His family is of Japanese heritage but has lived in the U.S. in Southern California for several generations.
Context: I was talking with the informant about any folklore his family tells.
Item: “So there’s this story that my mom used to tell me about why the moon looks the way it does. Once upon a time, there were a bunch of animals that lived together peacefully. They would go play on the mountain during the day and, at the end of the night, return to the forest to rest until the next day. An old man who lived on the moon came down one day disguised as a wanderer to test the animals. He asked if they could spare anything to eat and the animals each went off. A monkey brought him his collection of nuts, a fox his fish from a trap, and the rabbit ran off trying to find something. But, the rabbit couldn’t find anything, and had to go back to the old man empty handed. Discouraged, the rabbit then told the monkey to get some grass and told the fox to light it on fire and jumped on the fire bed, telling the old man to eat him, as he had nothing to offer. The man was so touched by this sacrifice that he took the rabbit and restored his form and brought him to heaven. He placed him to rest on the moon, and that is why, to this day, we see the rabbit on the moon”.
Analysis: This tale seems to show the importance of kindness and sacrifice that is important to the Japanese. Hospitality is also seen as important, as seen by the animals dropping everything they were doing and assisting the stranger. Finally, when the rabbit realized it had nothing to give, it unquestioningly decided to sacrifice itself to feed the man. Ritual suicide, known as Seppuku, was a huge part of Japanese culture and very accepted among the Japanese people. It is not a sin, such as in Western cultures with mono-theistic religions to take your own life. We also see a tendency to try to explain the unexplainable and assign meaning to all things in the world. This is a common motif among all cultures, though some take it to further extremes than others.
Note: This tale can be found in Dictionary of Nature Myths: Legends of the Earth, Sea, and Sky by Tamra Andrews.
This story was told outside at 10 p.m. when the moon was clearly visible. It was not a special holiday, but it was dark with only the moon as a visible light source. The outside air was very still and peaceful. The speaker wished to illustrate a story that was very important to him because it is part of his culture. It reflects the importance of filial piety, and how wit is important in making decisions tactfully and meaningfully. It also shows how good actions will bring good karma and good fortune will follow, while evil will be repaid with punishment and other problems. This story was learned from the speaker’s parents as he was growing up, and they would constantly tell this story to both teach him to honor his parents and to fill in his identity as a Japanese-American.
Once upon a time, there was an old bamboo cutter who, while walking home, saw a faint white light in the distance. And as he came closer to it, he saw that it was coming from this shining stalk of bamboo and he decided to cut it open. Inside it, there was a small little baby girl who was only a few inches tall but very beautiful. And the old man was very surprised and did not want to leave her there, so he decided to take her home to his wife. The old couple was glad because they didn’t have any children so they decided to raise her as their own and named her Kaguya-hime. And from that day on, every time the old man went to cut bamboo, he’d find a small piece of gold inside each bamboo stalk. And so the family became very rich. And eventually, as Kaguya-hime grew, she became extremely beautiful and news of her beauty quickly spread talking about how she was more beautiful than any princess ever. Eventually five princes came and thought that whenever they saw Kaguya-hime, she was the most beautiful person ever, and decided to try and get her hand in marriage. Each of the princes wrote to the father of Kaguya-hime asking for her hand in marriage but he didn’t know what to do because all the letters actually came at the same time and he thought that if he chose one of the princes the rest would became angry. He decided to ask Kaguya-hime to decide. But Kaguya-hime was not every interested in marriage and did not want to actually marry any of them and just wanted to stay with her parents. So she carefully planned and had all the princes come to the house. And so on a certain day the five princes would come to the house of the bamboo cutter and each one of them thought that they would be able to marry her. Kaguya-hime decided that if they wanted to be able to marry her they would try to accomplish one of these missions that she would give to them. These five princes were to retrieve these rare artifacts. The first prince was to go to India and find the great stone bowl of Buddha. The second prince was to bring a branch from the jewel trees that grew on the floating mountains of Hourai. The third prince was to bring a robe made from the skins of the fire rats. The fourth was to bring the shell which the swallows keep hidden in their nests. And the 5th prince was to bring a jewel from the neck of the sea dragon The princes hurried off hoping that they would be able to retrieve the item as fast as possible and be able to achieve Kaguya-hime’s hand in marriage. The first prince was supposed to retrieve the great stone bowl which was hidden in India that belonged to the great god Buddha, and the bowl supposedly gleamed and sparked as if set with the most beautiful gems and it was hidden in some great temple. Now the first prince was trying to go to India but he was very lazy and decided that he didn’t actually want to India and so he decided to try to come up with a clever plan to try and trick Kaguya-hime. He asked the sailors how long it would take to go to India, and the sailors said it would take about 3 years. And so he decided that he wasn’t going to go and he decided to go to another city, stay for a few years, and find an old stone bowl and try and dress it up as if it were the great stone bowl that was in India. When Kaguya hime received the bowl, she opened it up and found that it was made of common stone and saw that the prince had tried to trick her. She was very angry and did not want to even see the prince when he came. The second prince who had to find the branch of the jewel tree also thought that he could outsmart Kaguya-hime. He didn’t actually believe that there was a floating mountain called Hourai and didn’t believe that her were actually trees of gold with jewels for leaves. So he decided to actually make it himself. Nobody really saw the second prince for about 3 years and he would just appear out of nowhere with a beautiful branch of gold with blossoms and leaves with all these colored jewels. And so Kaguya-hime decided to ask the prince of his journey, and so the prince talked about how he had seen many different things like these beautiful cities and strange countries, how these great sea dragons and sea serpents and saw these strange birds, and he talked about how he struggled through these fierce storms and sometimes he had neither food nor water, but eventually he was able to reach the great mountain of Hourai and retrieve the branch of the jewel tree. And after the prince told the story, 3 men came in and asked for payment for making the jewel branch. And the prince had tried to drive them away, but Kaguya-hime asked them to stay and asked why they were there. And the three men talked about how they had been working for 3 years to make this beautiful golden branch and that they wanted their pay. And Kaguya-hime found out that the prince had just lied to her, so the second prince went home dejected. And Kaguya-hime gave the three men the jeweled branch to pay for their years of hard work. And they went off happy and praised the princess for her kindness. The third prince had a very difficult task as well and he was to find the fire robe. He was very rich and had friends all around the world, and he had one friend that lived in China and sent him a messenger with a great bag of gold asking him to find the robe made of the skins of fire rats. The friend did not know what to do because he had never heard of this thing before, but he decided to try his best. He sent messengers all around china looking for this robe, but they could never find it. He went to every temple and asked about it, but he could never find it. And they had never even heard of it before. He even asked all the merchants as well. At last he decided that he would just send the gold back to the prince and say that he was unable to find it. But the next morning he saw a group of beggars passing by and decided to ask them about the fire robe. And they were very surprised about all this. And the friend asked them about the fire robe. Some of them laughed at his face because they didn’t think that it existed. One of them thought that they had heard of it but that it was only a story and that it didn’t actually exist. After all but one beggar left, there was one old man who told them a story about how when he was a child his grandfather talked about this fire robe that was kept in this temple on top of a mountain hundreds of miles away from this place. The friend was very delighted but was wondering why the messengers had never found it. So he went to look for the temple and sent a messenger there but the messenger said that there actually wasn’t a temple on the mountain. The beggar said that there was a temple during his grandfather’s time. So the messenger searched the mountain and tried to look for the temple and couldn’t find it and said they only found a couple of stones. And they searched around a long time and eventually they actually found a large iron box that was buried underneath the stones. They opened the box and within it wrapped in many folds of rich silk, a strange beautiful fur robe. They carried it home joyfully to the friend who was very glad to receive it and sent it to the third prince who was very excited. He took it out of the box, and looked at it, and it was very beautiful, and remarked how Kaguya-hime would look beautiful in it and he remembered that every time the fire robe was put into the fire, it would be more bright and silvery than it was before, and so he put it in, but before he could snatch it from the fire, the fire quickly consumed up the robe and left nothing but silvery smoke. And the 3rd prince was suddenly heartbroken. He decided to write to Kaguya-hime telling her all about what had happened and the truth and decided to leave forever. And once Kaguya-hime received the letter, she knew that he was telling the truth and wanted him to come to her but he had gone away forever and Kaguya-hime never heard or saw of him ever again. The prince who was to find the shell in the swallow’s nest decided that he would ask the servants and everyone he knew about the shells that the swallows kept in their nests. None of the servants knew about it or the gardeners or any of the people that he had known so he decided to ask the children. A little boy thought that he had seen one inside some nests and while he was in the roof of the kitchen looking for swallow’s eggs he thought he saw this supposed shell and thought it was the shell the prince wanted. The prince was delighted and ordered his men to go search the swallow’s nest on the roof of the kitchen to look for the shell but they couldn’t reach it. So the men spent about three days trying to climb up and get it but they failed. So their final solution was to get a rope and a basket to drop a man and look into the nest, but they couldn’t find a shell. At last the prince grew impatient and decided to go up to the kitchen and into the basket and look for a shell himself. But the men told him how dangerous it was but they decided not to refuse and brought him up and the prince decided to look into the nest. But the swallows began to peck at him. They didn’t want to have their eggs broken so they attacked the prince multiple times until he fell off of the basket and onto a stove and was just badly bruised and burned and eventually he just gave up. He didn’t want to look for the shell and forgot about Kaguya-hime. In the end, he would never climb up and look into the swallow’s nest from that day on. The last prince was to bring the dragon jewel, but while he was very rich, he was only a great boaster and a coward as well. He was going to get the dragon jewel but he didn’t want to get it himself so he called up a great number of servants and soldiers and told them they were to look for the dragon jewel. He would give them a bunch of money and they weren’t to come back until they found it, but they took the money and left because they didn’t believe that it existed. So the last prince decided to go look for it himself. And he took a few men and set off on a boat. It was okay for the first couple of days, but eventually there was a great giant storm. The storm was very dangerous and could potentially destroy the boat and kill them all. So the prince went up to the captain and asked what he should do and the captain responded that the dragon had probably heard he was going to kill it and take the jewel, so he had sent the storm to try and kill him. So the prince, fearing for his life, promised that he would never ever touch the dragon and eventually the storm died down and the prince came to land down elsewhere. And the prince was so scared for his life that once he had touched the ground he vowed that he would never leave the solid piece of ground and he would spend the rest of his life on an island far away. Many years passed and Kaguya-hime took very good care of her old father and mother. The mother and father finally realized why Kaguya-hime had asked the princes to do such impossible things and that Kaguya-hime had just wanted to stay with her parents. And Kaguya-hime knew that if she refused to marry them, they might cause trouble and attack and harm the family. And as each day passed, Kaguya-hime would grow more and more beautiful and kinder and gentler and eventually when she was 20 years old her mother died and she became very sad. And whenever the full moon rose to show, she would go by herself and weep. One evening late in the summer, Kaguya-hime was sitting on a balcony looking at the moon and was crying very much. Her old father would come up to her and ask what the problem was and Kaguya-hime replied that she knew that one day she would eventually leave him and that her home was actually in the moon; she was sent down to earth to take care of them but eventually the time would come where she had to leave. She did not want to leave them but she must. She said that when the next full moon came, the people from the moon would come and get her. The father was very sad to hear this but thought that he would be able to keep her there by asking the emperor for some help. Kaguya-hime replied that it would be no use and that no one could keep her there when the time was to come. The father thought that he could do something about this and went to the emperor and told him the entire story. The emperor was touched by Kaguya-hime’s story and decided to send a whole army to guard the house when the time came. The old bamboo cutter went home cheerful but Kaguya-hime was sadder than ever. Eventually the old moon faded away and the few nights would show only the blue lights of the heaven and the gold of the stars, and a tiny silver thread showed just after sunset which eventually widened and brightened. Kaguya-hime would grow sadder and sadder. On the first night of the full moon the emperor’s men stood guard all around the house and Kaguya-hime waited on the balcony for the moon to rise. Eventually, slowly over the tops of the trees of the mountain rose this great white silver ball and every sound hushed. Kaguya-hime went to her father who had lied down as if he were asleep. When Kaguya-hime came near he opened his eyes and said, “I see now why you must go. It is because I am going too. Thank you my daughter for all the happiness you have brought to us,” and the old man closed his eyes and Kaguya-hime saw that he was dead. The moon rose higher and higher and eventually a line of light like a bridge reached from heaven to earth and down this bridge came many soldiers with shining armor. There was no sound and no wind, but they came. The emperor’s soldiers stood as if they had turned to stone and could not do anything. Kaguya-hime went to the leader of these heavenly visitors and said that she was ready. The leader handed her a cup with the elixir of immortality and she drank from it and she would no longer be mortal. She would become a princess of the moon and live on forever. Kaguya-hime and the others would eventually rise up like the morning mists, passing on to Mount Fuji, the sacred mountain of Japan, and eventually reach the silver gates of the moon city where everything was all happiness and peace. Men say that now a small soft white wreath of smoke that curls up around the crown of Mt. Fuji comes up like a floating bridge to that city in the moon far off in the sky.
As the one recording this tale, I had the same reaction as the speaker did. By looking at the moon in the darkness and listening to the tale, it seemed much more convincing and meaningful. It was a reminder to treasure loved ones and to act wisely so as to stop harm from following. It teaches good moral lessons such as protecting things that are unable to project themselves and to live honestly. More broadly, the story indicates to me that Japanese culture prioritizes family and morality.
This story is also mentioned in a scientific article:
Folktales Commonly Told American and Japanese Children: Ethical Themes of Omission and Commission
Betty B. Lanham and Masao Shimura
The Journal of American Folklore , Vol. 80, No. 315 (Jan. – Mar., 1967), pp. 33-48
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.