Tuesday 4 January 2022

Book Review: Otogizoushi - The Fairy Tale Book of Dazai Osamu (Folklore)

Title: Otogizoushi: The Fairy Tale Book of Dazai Osamu
Author: Dazai Osamu
Publisher: Kurodahan Press
Publication Date: 2011 (1945)
Format: Paperback
Genre: Folklore & Myth
Source: Xmas Gift

Dazai Osamu wrote The Fairy Tale Book (Otogiz┼Źshi) in the last months of the Pacific War. The traditional tales upon which Dazai's retellings are based are well known to every Japanese schoolchild, but this is no children's book. In Dazai's hands such stock characters as the kindhearted Oji-san to Oba-san ("Grandmother and Grandfather"), the mischievous tanuki badger, the fearsome Oni ogres, the greedy old man, the "tongue-cut" sparrow, and of course Urashima Taro (the Japanese Rip van Winkle) become complex individuals facing difficult and nuanced moral dilemmas. The resulting stories are thought-provoking, slyly subversive, and often hilarious.


In Dazai's retelling of the four folk tales in Otogizoushi, he manages to both relate the stories while also turning each on its head. His sense of humour and subversive wit as he delves into the reasoning behind the tales and the motivations of their characters are impressive and entertaining. I had already read more traditional narrations of two of these stories in the past, so it was fun to see how Dazai chose to reinterpret them. If you are interesting in twentieth century Japanese literature and Japanese folktales, this will be a worthwhile book to add to your collection. Plus, at only a little over 100 pages, it is a light and quick read you can finish in a single sitting. It gets 4.5 stars from me.

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