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Japanese Culture
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Japanese: 竹取物語, たけとりものがたり, Taketori Monogatari) - A a 10th century Japanese folktale, also known as The Tale of Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語, Kaguya-hime no Monogatari). It is considered the oldest Japanese narrative.

It primarily details the life of a mysterious girl called Kaguya-hime who was discovered, as a baby, inside the stalk of a glowing bamboo plant. She is said to be from Tsuki-no-Miyako (月の都 "The Capital of the Moon") and has unusual hair that "shines like gold".

One day, while walking in the bamboo forest, an old, childless bamboo cutter called Taketori-no-Okina (竹取翁 "the Old Man who Harvests Bamboo") comes across a mysterious, shining stalk of bamboo. Cutting it open, he finds inside it a baby the size of his thumb. Rejoicing to find such a beautiful girl, he takes her home, and he and his wife raise her as their own child, naming her Kaguya-hime (かぐや姫 "radiant-night princess). Thereafter, Taketori-no-Okina found that whenever he cut down a stalk of bamboo, inside he found a small nugget of gold. Soon he is rich, and Kaguya-hime grew from a small baby into a woman of usual size and extraordinary beauty. At first, Taketori-no-Okina tries to sequester her from outsiders, but over time the news of her beauty spreads.

Eventually, five princes come to Taketori-no-Okina's residence to ask for Kaguya-hime's hand in marriage. The princes eventually persuade Taketori-no-Okina to tell a reluctant Kaguya-hime to choose one from among them. To this end, Kaguya-hime concocts impossible tasks for the princes to accomplish. She will agree to marry the prince who manages to bring her a specified item.

That night, Taketori-no-Okina tells the five princes what each of them must bring. The first is told to bring her the stone begging bowl of the Buddha. The second is told to retrieve a jeweled branch from the island of Hourai. The third is told to seek the legendary robe of the fire-rat of China. The fourth must retrieve a colored jewel from a dragon's neck. The final prince is told to find the seashell treasure of the swallows.

Realizing that it was an impossible task, the first prince returns with an expensive bowl, but noticing that the bowl does not glow with holy light, Kaguya-hime sees through his deception. Two other princes likewise attempt to deceive her with fakes but also fail. The fourth gives up after encountering a storm, while the final prince loses his life in his attempt to retrieve the object.

After this, the Emperor of Japan, Mikado, comes to see the strangely beautiful Kaguya-hime and upon falling in love asks her to marry him. Although he is not subjected to the impossible trials that thwarted the princes, Kaguya-hime rejects his request for marriage as well, telling him that she is not of this country and thus cannot go to the palace with him. She stays in contact with the Emperor, but continues to rebuff his requests.

That summer, whenever Kaguya-hime sees the full moon, her eyes fill with tears. Though her adoptive parents worry greatly and question her, she is unable to tell them what is wrong. Her behavior becomes increasingly erratic until she reveals that she is not of this world and must return to her people on the Moon. In some versions of this tale, it is said that she was sent to the Earth as a temporary punishment for some crime, while others say it is because she was sent to earth for safety during a celestial war.

As the day of her return approaches, the Emperor sets many guards around her house to protect her from the Moon people, but when an embassy of "Heavenly Beings" arrives at the door of Taketori-no-Okino's house, the many guards are blinded by a strange light. Kaguya-hime announces that though she loves her many friends on Earth, she must return with the Moon people to her true home. She writes sad notes of apology to her parents and to the Emperor, then gives her parents her own robe as a memento. She then takes a small taste of the elixir of life, attaches it to her letter to the Emperor, and gives it to a guard officer. As she hands it to him, the feather robe is placed on her shoulders, and all of her sadness and compassion for the people of the Earth are forgotten. The heavenly entourage takes Kaguya-hime back to Tsuki-no-Miyako ("the Capital of the Moon") against her will, leaving her earthly foster parents in tears.

The parents become very sad and are soon put to bed sick. The guard officer returns to the Emperor with the items Kaguya-hime had given him as her last mortal act, and reports what had happened. The Emperor reads her letter and is overcome with sadness. He asks his servants, "Which mountain is the closest place to Heaven?", to which one replies that the Great Mountain of Suruga Province is the closest place to Heaven. The Emperor orders his men to take the letter to the summit of the mountain and burn it, with the hope that his message would reach the now-distant princess. The men are also commanded to burn the pot of elixir of immortality since the Emperor does not desire to live forever without being able to see her. The legend has it that the word immortality (不死, fushi, or fuji) became the name of the mountain, Mount Fuji. It is also said that the kanji for the mountain, 富士山 (literally "Mountain Abounding with Warriors"), is derived from the Emperor's army ascending the slopes of the mountain to carry out his order. It is said that the smoke from the burning still rises to this day. (In the past, Mount Fuji was much more volcanically active than today.)

Information source: “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.” Article date: 5 Feb. 2008. Retrieved: Wikipedia. 12 Feb. 2008 <The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter>.

Video - The following is a house commercial in Japan using characters from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter story.





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