Tales from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins

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(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Tales from the Bamboo Grove reflects the values of the Kawashima household and—in a broader sense, of Japanese culture—as handed down through oral tradition. Good versus evil is the underlying theme of many of the stories, such as “Monkey and Crab,” and “Why Is the Seawater Salty?” Good wins in the end and evil is punished: The greedy older brother drowns at sea as a direct result of his avarice, and the sly monkey is crushed, pinched, burnt, and stung by the other characters in the story as a punishment for stealing the crabs’ persimmons. Reflecting harsh consequences for evil deeds, the tales nevertheless reveal the willingness to forgive within Japanese culture. After the monkey is punished, confesses, and asks Mrs. Crab for forgiveness, he is allowed to live with the others in peace, and harmony returns to the community. These tales reveal the shame that selfish deeds bring in Japanese culture and the importance of honesty, fairness, and harmony within the community.

Hard work and loyalty to family are other important values reflected in these Japanese tales. In both “Yayoi and the Spirit Tree” and “The Fox Wife,” the main characters devote themselves completely to the service to their loved ones. Although both characters are materially poor, their selfless devotion is miraculously rewarded, and they receive material blessings to meet the physical needs of their family. In contrast, the main character in “Dragon Princess, Tatsuko” concentrates her energies on self-devotion and vanity and ends up spending the rest of her life as a dragon, causing great pain to her devoted mother.

Folkloric explanations of physical aspects of nature is another characteristic of these Japanese tales. For example, “The Grandmother Who Became an Island” explains the origin of island weather patterns, and “Why Is the Seawater Salty?” explains how the oceans became salty and why they remain in this state. Similar to American Indian folklore in their explanations of physical events and geographical phenomena, such as earthquakes and the Creation, these nature folktales lend themselves to both language arts and science integration in the classroom.