Okayama 21

Japanese Myths and Folktales

Classic Tales and Traditional Legends

Japanese folklore largely drew its inspiration from Shinto and Buddhism. Supernatural creatures, gods and spirits (kami, yokai), as well as sacred animals that enliven the stories were often found in the two main religions of the country.

The stories of older times (mukashibanashi) are first told to children, then taught in Japanese literature classes to students. Thus ancient myths pervade the Japanese culture and society. They influenced some contemporary artworks such as Hayao Miyazaki’s animated movies:

  • Spirited Away pictures a mythical Japan throbbing with spirits and monsters,
  • Takahata’s Pom Poko shows the tanuki or sacred raccoon dog’s shenanigans.

Many temples, shrines and statues throughout the archipelago are dedicated to legendary heroes and deities, for example to the famous loyal dog Hachiko. One of the most popular tales is the legend of Momotaro, the boy born from a peach (momo), whose events are said to take place in Okayama. Nowadays, the eponymous Shinto shrine in Inuyama celebrates the popular hero each year in May.

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