Friday, October 28, 2011

Cucumbrage: A Japanese Folktale Halloween Encore

What's that smell? Via.

It’s Halloween time and Japan Society once again has something spooktacular in store: Meet Japan’s Mystical Folktale Creatures& Ghosts through Theater Performance is back Sunday to treat families to all the creatures and ghosts unique to Japanese culture. Among many activities, kids can put on their best oni face with mask-making, or take the guise of other yokai as they enjoy the song and dance of an original play by Kanako Hiyama created just for the special day.

In the tradition of storytelling before the event (remember the zashiki warashi and bakeneko?), here’s a little introduction to a certain water-dwelling monstrosity…

One summer vacation, instead of hanging with his friends back in the city, a young boy is dragged by his parents to his grandparents’ home in the middle of nowhere.

The boy decides to walk through the nearby woods for a little adventure following a spat with his parents. Venturing deep into thick rows of old, gnarled trees and deepening piles of fallen leaves, the boy finds little amusement until he comes across a wooden signed nailed to one of the trees.


A strange sign to have in the middle of the woods, he thinks, then is distracted by a river peeking through a clearing in front of him.

He rushes over, marveling at the wide expanse of water. He delights in its shore, throwing rocks in the reiver every so often, until he trips over a basket of cucumbers. Without a thought--they look so very delicious--and having left the house with no lunch, the boy picks one out and digs in.

As soon as he bites into the cold, fresh cucumber goodness, the river bubbles and a slimy green arm with a thin webbed hand reaches out for the boy’s feet. He slowly backs away gripped by fear as a short creature with a beaked face, giant turtle shell on its back, and a disgusting stench emerges from the water, approaching with menace. The boy drops the cucumber and without thinking starts bowing deeply while profusely apologies. He looks up to see the creature stopped dead in its track. With vague look of comprehension on its unnatural face, the creature bends in a slow, low bow. Just as its beak touches the ground, water pours from a shallow hole in its its head. Realizing what has happened it falls to the ground in panic and weakly stares at the boy, who takes the opportunity to escape back home to the arms of his worried parents.

That day, the kappa has shown the boy that a little bit of politeness (and luck) goes a long way.

--Sean Tomizawa


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