Thursday, March 12, 2015

In Memorium: Miyoko Matsutani - Thank You For All The Tales

On February 28th, 2015, one of Japan's leading folktale scholars, collectors and writers, passed away. We lost a fairy tale hero that day  - a woman who made it her mission to preserve the folktales of Japan before they were lost to memory - and whether you know her name or not, we fairy tale folk have benefitted greatly from her life's work. I feel it's only right that I pay tribute to her memory and help her name be remembered.

She began writing fairy tales after graduating high school and wrote over 300 books (picture books, children's and juvenile literature) and was the first Japanese author to make the Hans Christian Andersen honor list (Award of Excellence) for Taro the Dragon Boy and won numerous awards before and since. A committed peace activist, her original works often used themes of war and peace.

She was also the head of, what I've seen described as "a folklore laboratory" which, although is probably only due to a weird translation, sounds awesome. (The real name of the organization is The Miyoko Matsutani Folklore Research Center.) Matsutani herself traveled all over Japan collecting folktales from ancient storytellers, as well as being a storyteller herself - something which, she seems to have done right up till she passed away. She has been instrumental in reviving the fading practice and art of storytelling in Japan, which diminished greatly when the Industrial Age began. Due to her traveling, storytelling, publishing and working with community centers, women's groups, schools and more, the practice is coming back, and although she alone can't take credit for it, she has been one of the key instruments in making that happen.

Her work hasn't been restricted to Japanese fairy tales and folktales either. She worked with Asian tales in general (in addition to her Japanese focus), publishing retellings of Chinese tales and fables as well as Korean, Vietnamese, Philippine, Indonesian and World Folklore collections. (Busy lady!)

Cover by Piotr Fąfrowicz
Here's a little summary extract on her scholarship contribution, from Books of Japan:
As head of the Miyoko Matsutani Folklore Research Center she collects and retells folktales from throughout Japan, and her Gendai minwa ko (Thoughts on Modern Folklore; 12 volumes) has earned praise for its compilation of folklore from the Meiji period (1868–1912) on. She is one of the true giants of contemporary children's literature in Japan, and her complete works have been published twice.
One thing I noticed in trying to search for her books, is that many of her picture books ended up being translated to Russian but are unfortunately difficult to find in English (apart from Taro the Dragon Boy).  You can however, see a whole lot of her Japanese covers HERE. It also seems like tracking down her multi-volume works and her collections of ghost stories and folktales isn't very straight forward either - something I hope will be remedied in the near future, especially since her passing has made it clear how valuable her work was.

There is a new book of hers due to be released in April, titled Shinano of Folklore (honestly - I haven't a clue how to read Japanese so I'm completely at the mercy of an online translator here. I'm not certain this title is correct..) Here's the synopsis, which sounds like a wonderful edition to looking at modern use of folklore and fairy tales in modern Japan and I'm not even going to try moving words around so it makes more sense to our English sentence construction. It has a wonderful charm reading it as is:
Japanese mind hometown revives now of the response with former TBS TV anime "Manga Japan Folk Tales" Mirai Inc. version proven caused a "folklore boom" and "Japanese folklore" series to many years of requests, outfit new We will. Illustrations are intact, the Kuminaoshi the print. "Shinano of folklore" is located in the knot of east and west, folklore that has been handed down among the natural Shinshu which is said to be Japan's roof. Crystal of wisdom, desire ancestors gave birth natural and human battle. 
A knot of East and West. I like that. We're all knots really...

I've done my best to track down the titles of the twelve volume series Thoughts on Modern Folklore (or Modern Folklore Considered) and have listed what I could find/understand below, along with most of the cover pictures. It will give you an idea of how wide her range of study and thinking was, which is pretty wonderful, especially when you realize in order to do this she was tracking the same thing we are here: fairy tale news and use of fairy tales in pop culture and entertainment.

1 Kappa Tengu - God hidden
2 Military conscription inspection and recruits of time
3 Laughter of ghost train, ship and automobile and ghost stories
4 Dream of news fireball missing out soul
5 Story went to news - underworld
6 Home front, thought suppression, air raid, Battle of Okinawa
7 Schools, laughter and ghost stories
8 Laughter of radio, television and ghost stories
9 Echo snake, tree spirits, war and wood
10 Wolf jackals, cats
11 Raccoon mujina
12 Photos of Kai civilization

Here's link to the WHOLE SET.

Here are some other folktale books:
                         Modern Folklore:
                        You Narrator, I Also Narrator
Folklore of the World
Japanese Mythology
Just a few of her "Momo-chan" (peach-chan) books, so beloved by Japanese parents and children. They were based off of her motherhood diary she began keeping when she had her first child.
These don't even begin to cover her books for children and teens with series such as "Story Gems", "Once Upon A Time", a "Thriller Restaurant" series for teens, illustrated folklore collections for children and babies (yes, babies), a huge Japanese folklore series and many, many more. Have a look HERE to see a massive range of titles at Amazon Japan.

Rest in peace Miyoko Matsutani.

Thank you for all the tales.

Additional sources: HERE & HERE

1 comment:

  1. "Japanese mind hometown revives now of the response with former TBS TV anime "Manga Japan Folk Tales" Mirai Inc. version"

    I think that's actually referring to a TV show I just discovered. It's an anime series entitled Folk Tales from Japan and is presented by something called "Hometown Revival" or "Hometown Reconstruction". Can't remember which. Anyway, it's saying that this anime series has caused a "folklore boom" with the public. Anyway, I plan on using the show for "Fairy Tale Media Fix" at some time in the future.

    Anyway, as a Japanese folk tale fan, I give a lot of respect to Miyoki Matsutani (despite just learning the name now).