Story from the River, Story from the Sea

Did you know that one of the most famous Japanese warriors of all time is called Peach Boy?

It’s true.  An old man and woman find a giant peach, and when it opens, inside is a little baby whom they name Peach Boy, or Momotaro.  Momotaro grows to be a fearless youth who takes it upon himself to teach the mean ogres in the mountain next door a lesson.  Although in the story Peach Boy is around 15, I made him into a younger child for our puppet show.  It just tickled me pink peach how a tough little warrior is called, not Superman, not Ironman, not Hulk, but Peach Boy.  YEAH!

Peach Boy is a bad*$#, as seen by this statue standing in Okayama, Japan.  Photo by jumbokedama on Flickr.

Peach Boy is a bad*$#, as seen by this statue standing in Okayama, Japan. Photo by jumbokedama on Flickr.

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The kind old couple finds a baby boy in a giant peach.

Tale of the Oki Islands (The Legend of Tokoyo)

Our oral story inspiration this June also comes from sea-encircled islands of Japan.  A young girl Tokoyo is the kind of strong girl hero I love to find in old stories.  An excellent pearl diver, Tokoyo sacrifices herself to save another girl and journeys to the bottom of the sea.  There she meets the Dragon King, and battles him when all others have given up hope.

I wish I could credit this lovely picture.  I think it's from Studio Ghibli.

I wish I could credit this lovely picture. I think it’s from Studio Ghibli.

Both of these tales were found in my trusty copy of Best-Loved Folktales of the World by Joanna Cole.  But many Japanese tales can also be found on the website Kids’ Web Japan, if you’re into ogres, tanukis and toothpick warriors… and who isn’t?

SunBee Circle in Summer at Ervan Chew Park

This hot, hot June SunBee Circle will have a new time and new location.  Our Friday class for mixed ages (2-8) will take place at the Ervan Chew Park on Dunlavy, a few blocks south of Richmond.  This park has a gazebo, picnic tables, a playground, and most importantly a splash pad for cooling off!  We will enjoy a lot of watery activities inspired by Tokoyo, Dragon King and Peach Boy.  We will also have a new time of 10-11 AM- all the better to cool us with, my dear!

See you there!

Everybody loves a tanuki

For many years as a preschool teacher I followed a typical January curriculum: all activities, songs and stories shalt focus on ice, snow, and penguins.  But after a while I didn’t like teaching about snow in a Houston winter.  It really, REALLY tends to spotlight the fact that we kind of don’t have any snow.  Our native Gulf Coast climate must be defective.  Which means we might not value it very much or think it’s ecology is worth protecting.  It’s a slippery, snowy slope.

So.  We are not going to obsess about snow in SunBee Circle this winter.  Our January theme is… Japan!

A tanuki is a doglike foxlike creature with markings like a raccoon, native to Japan.

A tanuki is a doglike foxlike creature with markings like a raccoon, native to Japan.

I love Japanese tales because of two reasons.  (Well, a million, but just to narrow it down…)  First of all, so many are about things turning into other things.  You know, shape-shifting.  A crane into a woman.  A peach into a boy.  A tea kettle into a tanuki dog.  In these tales, nothing is really quite what it seems.   Secondly, there is a moral suppleness to many of the tales that our western stories just don’t seem to have.  The line between good characters and bad, virtue and evil, is not so stark.

Illustration of Bunbuku Chagama by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1889-1892.

Illustration of Bumbuku Chagama by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1889-1892. The walls are all cracked because Bambuku has bashed them up!

This January I have been telling the kids at Beehive preschool “The Magic Tea Kettle,” a classic Japanese fairy tale about a tea kettle in a Zen temple that turns into a tanuki dog and runs wild!  It’s also called “Bumbuku Chagama,” Bumbuku being our tanuki’s given name.  This story is full of those delightful smudges in the good/bad line that I love so much.  And what a lot of humor comes out of that!  The Zen priest, who should be a model of acceptance, certainly doesn’t care for a tea kettle that doesn’t behave itself (by the way, he’s a tightwad, too.)  It’s the poor junk dealer who adopts the runaway tanuki-kettle, the junk dealer who knows how to take things as they come and be kind to animals.  Children can easily identify with the magical tanuki, who seems naughty but isn’t.  Even when wreaking havoc on the monks’ meditation hour he isn’t really bad.  He just needs the right context for his high spirits, and they work much better in the junk dealer’s circus than in a Zen temple.

I read this delightful story in the wonderful “Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories” by Florence Sakade , along with many others.  This book makes the tales wonderfully accessible to children and the illustrations are a dream.

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