Night and the Japanese Fairy Tale

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Time, and particularly night, in folktales can be approached from various perspectives. In the present study, we shall see time in its structural function and will analyze the protagonist’s experience of time, as well as the “anthropic” nature of time and night as structural elements in fairy tales. We shall accomplish this by examining the theme of time, and particularly nighttime with its functions and characteristics, within the framework of the Japanese tale. We shall attempt to rethink the position of night and time in fairy tales as a motif, a background, a facilitator, and an opportunity that exists because of the human factor in the process of storytelling.

The present study is based on the subgenre of ordinary folktales (also known as true folktales, or Zaubermärchen). The source material (59 tales out of the total 189 defined as “true”) can be found in volumes ii-vii of Seki Keigo’s Index of Japanese Folktales. All of the 59 tales that form the basis of this study are examined in regard to time, and conclusions are illustrated by a few selected examples. The time-motifs are discussed as originating from the storytelling process; as being part of the binomial world of the folktale; as illustrating the physical and psychological experience of time quantities and qualities; and as forming a framework that facilitates the relationships between the dramatis personae.

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Journal for the Study of Time

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