During the springtime of 2010, I was working as a research assistant in the World Literature department at Simon Fraser University, and my main duties consisted of scanning old fairytale ‘tomes and cataloging citations in a massive online database. However, my favorite task was reading the short stories and photographing the cunning illustrations of Japanese folklore.
World Literature focuses on the way writing travels beyond its context of origin and acquires a new life in other languages, nations and traditions. Ancient lyrical forms, tales from The Arabian Nights, nineteenth-century French and British novels, American cinema of the 1940s and contemporary Japanese manga and anime are all good examples of World Literature.
Studying texts in a World Literature framework raises vital questions about how cultures understand one another, emphasizing contexts of transmission and reception. World Literature is therefore uniquely placed to examine cross-cultural contacts and exchanges. (#)
Tanuki (狸, タヌキ?) is the common Japanese name for the Japanese raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus). They have been part of Japanese folklore since ancient times. The legendary tanuki is reputed to be mischievous and jolly, a master of disguise and shapeshifting, but somewhat gullible and absent-minded.
There was once a priest who was very fond of drinking tea. He always made the tea himself and was very fussy about the utensils he used. One day in an old secondhand shop he discovered a beautiful iron kettle used for boiling water when making tea. It was a very old and rusty kettle, but he could see its beauty beneath the rust. So he bought it and took it back to his temple. He polished the kettle until all the rust was gone, and then he called his three young pupils, who lived in the temple.
“Just look what a fine kettle I bought today,” he said to them. “Now I’ll boil some water in it and make us all some delicious tea.”
So he put the kettle over a charcoal fire in a brazier, and they all sat around waiting for the water to boil. The kettle started getting hotter and hotter, and suddenly a very strange thing happened: the kettle grew the head of a badger, and a bushy badger tail, and four little badger feet.
“Ouch! it’s hot!” cried the kettle. “I’m burning, I’m burning!” And with those words the kettle jumped off the fire and began running around the room on its little badger feet.
The old priest was very surprised, but he didn’t want to lose his kettle. “Quick! quick!” he said to his pupils, “don’t let it get away. Catch it!”(#)