My introduction to Japanese folk tales was through a beautifully illustrated copy of Momotaro. In this book, Momotaro wears the traditional samurai armor and it was a glimpse into my Japanese ancestry. I’ve since sought out Japanese folk tales to read to my kids, searching in Japanese markets and bookstores when I am visiting family in California. About half of these books are from my collection. The rest I researched and found in my public library. Since there are 21 books, I’ve broken them down:
- Japanese Folk Tales About Friendship
- Momotaro (Peach Boy)
- Japanese Crane Folk Tales
- Japanese Joke Tales
- Japanese Folk Tales with Surprise Endings
What Japanese folk tales are you familiar with? Can you add to this list? Thanks so much!
21 Japanese Folk Tales for Kids
Japanese Folk Tales About Friendship
Both these stories are about Buddhist priests and a special friendship with a rescued animal.
Tanuki’s Gift: A Japanese Tale by Tim Myers, illustrated by R. G. Roth
A tanuki is a small badger-like animal like a raccoon-dog. It’s an actual animal in Japan, but it has also taken on mythological qualities as a shapeshifter trickster. This story is based on A. B. Mitford’s 19th century Tales of Old Japan which he derived from a phamphlet that appeared as early as 1688.
Tanuki, from Mother Nature Network
This is a lovely story of friendship and sacrifice. A Buddhist priest spends all of his days praying in his little hut. The poor people bring him food and clothing so he doesn’t have worry about worldly things. One day, a tanuki ask for shelter during a bitter cold night, and they become friends. For ten years, the tanuki came every night during the winter. Finally, the tanuki asks the priest for a way to repay him for his kindness. The priest admits he longs for three gold coins to pay for prayers so that he might enter Paradise when he dies. The tanuki then disappears for a long time and the priest mourns his departure. Finally the tanuki returns, having spent this time collecting gold ore and smelting it. The priest is overjoyed because the gift of friendship is what he realized he wanted all along. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
I am Tama, Lucky Cat: A Japanese Legend by Wendy Henrichs, illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi
The Maneki Neko is commonly in Japanese stores and restaurants as a symbol of good luck. This is the story of why its so popular.
Long ago in Japan, a cat found shelter in a run down Buddhist temple. The priest welcomed the cat and shared the meager food he had. He hoped to improve the lives of the villagers who worshipped there but they were as poor as he was. One day, the cat, named Tama, the Lucky Cat, by the priest, welcomed a warlord from under the shelter of a cherry tree just before it was struck by lightening. In thanks for saving him and his horse, the wealthy daimyō honored the temple with his patronage. [folk tale picture book, ages 4 and up]