The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (竹取物語 Taketori Monogatari?), also known as Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫 Kaguya Hime?, 赫映姫 or 輝夜姫), is a 10th-century Japanese folktale. It is considered the oldest extant Japanese narrative and an early example of proto-science fiction.
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").
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") came across a mysterious, shining stalk of bamboo. After cutting it open, he found inside it an infant the size of his thumb. He rejoiced to find such a beautiful girl and took her home. He and his wife raised her as their own child and named her Kaguya-hime (かぐや姫 accurately, Nayotake-no-Kaguya-hime "princess of flexible bamboos scattering light"). Thereafter, Taketori no Okina found that whenever he cut down a stalk of bamboo, inside would be a small nugget of gold. Soon he became rich. Kaguya-hime grew from a small baby into a woman of ordinary size and extraordinary beauty. At first, Taketori no Okina tried to keep her away from outsiders, but over time the news of her beauty spread.
Eventually, five princes came to Taketori no Okina's residence to ask for Kaguya-hime's hand in marriage. The princes eventually persuaded Taketori no Okina to tell a reluctant Kaguya-hime to choose from among them. Kaguya-hime concocted impossible tasks for the princes, agreeing to marry the one who managed to bring her his specified item. That night, Taketori no Okina told the five princes what each must bring. The first was told to bring her the stone begging bowl of the Buddha from India, the second a jeweled branch from the island of Hōrai, the third the legendary robe of the fire-rat of China, the fourth a colored jewel from a dragon's neck, and the final prince the cowrie which was born from swallows.
Realizing that it was an impossible task, the first prince returned with an expensive bowl, but after noticing that the bowl did not glow with holy light, Kaguya-hime saw through his deception. Likewise, two other princes attempted to deceive her with fakes, but also failed. The fourth gave up after encountering a storm, while the final prince lost his life (severely injured in some versions) in his attempt.
After this, the Emperor of Japan, Mikado, came to see the strangely beautiful Kaguya-hime and, upon falling in love, asked her to marry him. Although he was not subjected to the impossible trials that had thwarted the princes, Kaguya-hime rejected his request for marriage as well, telling him that she was not of his country and thus could not go to the palace with him. She stayed in contact with the Emperor, but continued to rebuff his requests and marriage proposals.
That summer, whenever Kaguya-hime saw the full moon, her eyes filled with tears. Though her adoptive parents worried greatly and questioned her, she was unable to tell them what was wrong. Her behaviour became increasingly erratic until she revealed that she was 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 in others, she was sent to Earth for her own safety during a celestial war. The gold that Taketori no Okina had been finding had in fact been a stipend from the people of the Moon, sent down to pay for Kaguya-hime's upkeep.
As the day of her return approached, the Emperor set many guards around her house to protect her from the Moon people, but when an embassy of "Heavenly Beings" arrived at the door of Taketori no Okina's house, the guards were blinded by a strange light. Kaguya-hime announced that, though she loved her many friends on Earth, she must return with the Moon people to her true home. She wrote sad notes of apology to her parents and to the Emperor, then gave her parents her own robe as a memento. She then took a small taste of the elixir of life, attached it to her letter to the Emperor, and gave it to a guard officer. As she handed it to him, the feather robe was placed on her shoulders, and all of her sadness and compassion for the people of the Earth were forgotten. The heavenly entourage took Kaguya-hime back to Tsuki-no-Miyako (lit. "the Capital of the Moon"), leaving her earthly foster parents in tears.
The parents became very sad and were soon put to bed sick. The officer returned to the Emperor with the items Kaguya-hime had given him as her last mortal act, and reported what had happened. The Emperor read her letter and was overcome with sadness. He asked his servants, "Which mountain is the closest place to Heaven?", to which one replied the Great Mountain of Suruga Province. The Emperor ordered his men to take the letter to the summit of the mountain and burn it, in the hope that his message would reach the distant princess. The men were also commanded to burn the elixir of immortality since the Emperor did not wish 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.)
Elements of the tale were drawn from earlier stories. The protagonist Taketori no Okina, given by name, appears in the earlier poetry collection Man'yōshū (c. 759; poem# 3791). In it, he meets a group of women to whom he recites a poem. This indicates that there previously existed an image or tale revolving around a bamboo cutter and celestial or mystical women.
There have been suggestions that The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is adapted from the Chinese legend Chang'e and is related to the tale of Swan Lake. This probably is due to Kaguya-hime wearing the hagoromo (羽衣 "feather robe") when she ascends to her homeland. But the hagoromo figures more famously in a group of tales known as the hagoromo densetsu (in one example recorded in the Ōmi-no-kuni Fudoki tells of a man who instructs his dog to steal the hagoromo of eight heavenly maidens while they were bathing, forcing one of them to become his bride). And the latter is remarkably similar to the tale of the Chinese traditional Magpie Festival legend of the Fairy Couple. Also similar to the story of how Völundr Smith and his brothers wedded the swan-maidens.
In 1957, Jinyu Fenghuang (金玉凤凰), a Chinese book of Tibetan tales, was published. In early 1970s, Japanese literary researchers became aware that "Banzhu Guniang" (班竹姑娘), one of the tales in the book, had certain similarities with The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. Initially, many researchers thought that "Banzhu Guniang" must be related to Tale of Bamboo Cutter, although some were skeptical.
In 1980s, studies showed that the relationship is not as simple as initially thought. Okutsu provides extensive review of the research, and notes that the book Jinyu Fenghuang was intended to be for children, and as such, the editor took some liberties in adapting the tales. No other compilation of Tibetan tales contains the story.
A Tibet-born person wrote that he did not know the story. A researcher went to Sichuan and found that, apart from those who had already read "Jinyu Fenghuang", local researchers in Chengdu did not know the story. Tibetan informants in Aba did not know the story either.
The Japanese manga series Queen Millennia by Leiji Matsumoto is loosely based on the story. The manga series was adapted into a 42-episode anime TV series by Toei Doga and broadcast on Fuji TV from 1981 to 1982. The series was also broadcast in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Mexico, and Chile. A theatrical anime film, which served as a retelling of the TV series, was released in 1982, shortly before the TV series ended.
In 1988, Japanese composer Maki Ishii asked Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián to produce a ballet for his musical work bearing the name Princess Kaguya. The product was a contemporary ballet named Kaguyahime the Moon Princess, where elements of Western and Japanese cultures combine.
Big Bird in Japan includes schoolchildren performing the play within the story. This ends up serving as foreshadowing to the film's ending twist, in which Big Bird's Japanese guide is revealed to be Princess Kaguya herself.
A side story in the manga series Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon titled "Princess Kaguya's Lover" (かぐや姫の恋人 "Kaguya hime no Koibito"?) was inspired by the tale, where an astronomer discovers an approaching comet and dubs it "Princess Snow Kaguya," after his romantic obsession with the Princess Kaguya legend. The comet is revealed to be an invader bent on freezing the earth and is defeated by the Sailor Senshi.
In Lilpri, Sasahara Natsuki is one of the singers from the Idol Unit "Little Princess" (LilPri). Her character theme is Princess Kaguya, while her other friends and have the themes of Princess Snow White (Yukimori Ringo) and Princess Cinderella (Takashiro Reira), resembling three of Disney's early Princesses, with Princess Kaguya replacing Princess Aurora.
A Vocaloid producer duo, Hitoshizuku-P and Yama△ (more commonly known as Yamashizuku) have released a song titled "1000 Year Time Capsule" using the voice bank MAYU. It is revealed in its release album, If the World, that it is based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, and, indirectly, Kaguya-hime.
The character Kaguya in the game Ōkami is revealed to have been discovered in a large metallic bamboo shaft. She departs for the moon inside a buried bamboo-shaped rocket.
The 2001 film Claire is based very loosely on the tale. In the film, an elderly male couple discovers a tiny baby girl in an ear of corn and raise her as their own.
The movie InuYasha the Movie: The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass is partly based on the tale: When Kaguya-Hime was ascending back to the Moon, she was attacked and devoured by a She-Youkai to gain her eternal life youth. The She-Youkai then disguised her as Kaguya-Hime, aiming to use her stolen powers to trap the mortal world in frozen time and eternal night. Her plot brings her to the attention of the protagonists, InuYasha, Kagome, Miroku, Sango, Shippo, and Sango's pet Kirara.
In the popular manga series Doraemon, one of Doraemon's gadgets is the "Girl Can". Nobita uses it and from it came a girl, he then named her as Kaguya and decided to raise her as his own daughter. She was later on adopted by an elderly couple at the night of the Full Moon.
The popular manga and anime series Naruto, also adapted the concept of Kaguya. In it Kaguya takes a forbidden fruit from the Shinju and becomes the first human to wield chakra (the source of all power, excluding taijutsu which is strictly physical combat). With this power she was able to stop all wars but was feared throughout all the villages. She later gave birth to two sons, Hagoromo and Hamura.
On April 26, 2014, Hobby Japan released a book in their Queen's Blade series based off the character of Princess Kaguya. In the book, Kaguya is armed with an energy sword, and special jet powered armored gloves and boots, which are reminiscent of the Marvel Comics character Iron Man.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.|
- Thumbelina - another folktale involving a tiny girl found in vegetation
- Kaguya Houraisan
- Queen Millennia
- Inuyasha the Movie 2: The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass
- Sailor Moon
- Anak Buluh Betong - Malaysian and Indonesian folktale
- Windows on Asia
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