As one might guess, the correlation between one’s culture and one’s folktales are one in the same. Culture, as one may know it is defined by the similar set of morals and values that govern a society. Morals and values are typically passed down from generation to generation through stories and other literary works.
During childhood, children are exposed to folktales in order to shape their minds in a way that develops the child’s way of thinking. So, as one can see the morals and values that we were taught at a very young age are the cornerstones on which societies were built. With that being said we will compare the culture of China & Japan and how their folktales played a role in what the countries are today.
We will be looking at their way of thinking, their gender roles, and how they have been influenced by Folktales. We will also analyze the impact that the morals and values of the folktales had on the development of each country and how they view the world. We will look at how each country’s way of thinking has been influenced by their fairytales. There are several ways of thinking in Japan that reflect how Japanese people think one of which is the ideology that “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down”.
This saying represents the ubiquitous ideology that is rampant throughout Japan. This way of thinking shows how uniformity is good and that self-expression is an atypical behavior and therefore frowned upon. Many examples of this ideology can be found in Japanese folktales like the story, “Benizara and Kakezara”.
“Benizara and Kakezara” is the Japanese equivalent of a story called, “Cinderella”, in the story an evil stepmother bullies and plays tricks on Benizara and forces her to do many chores— not only that but she also gives Benizara impossible tasks with a consequence if she is unable to complete it. For example, in the story, the evil stepmother gives Benizara a tattered burlap sack with a hole in it and tells her to fill up the sack with chestnuts or to not come home. The evil stepmother does this so that she can get rid of Benizara because she does not want competition for her little girl Kakezara.
Even though Benizara would have a hard time completing this task as she lacks the proper materials she would rather suffer trying to complete the impossible task than complain or make a scene and be hammered down so to speak. To analyze this further, we will look at the clash between Benizara’s individualism and her conformism. The reason for Benizara’s clash of values was because she was unsure about what she should do in regards to her predicament. As she did not want to lose face or to stick out in a manner where she seemed incompetent and useless so she risked her life by staying in a hostile environment in order to complete the task. This way of thinking is based on the ideology of “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down”.There is also a similar ideology in Chinese fairy tales as well.
“Flies never visit an egg that has no crack” This Chinese proverb is another way of saying “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down” However, it is slightly different in its interpretation—in China the usage of this proverb is typically different than its Japanese counterparts because the meaning behind the ideology is reversed. This means that one would want to stick out and be chosen—typically for marriage. Examples of this can be found in the Chinese story called “Yeh-Shen”. “Yeh-Shen” is the Chinese equivalent of “Cinderella” and “Benizara and Kakezara” because of the various similarities between the stories. However, there are slight differences that separate each of the stories. For example, in the portrayal of gender— In the Chinese version, the Cinderella (or Yeh-Shen) was portrayed in a way that shows how little women were valued in Chinese society as their value was based only on their beauty and not who they were as a person. An example of this can be seen within the story that shows how many people believed that yeh-shen was worthless because of her outward appearance in her everyday clothes. And when she was suddenly dressed in the finest garments all of the potential suitors wished to marry Yeh-shen regardless of what they thought previously.
This shows how the Chinese ideology “Flies never visit an egg that has no crack” is present in Chinese folktales and has influenced the Chinese’s way of thinking.The second topic we will analyze is the gender roles within the fairytales and their relation on how society perceives the role of gender. To better understand this we will look at two stories one from each country and analyze them and see how the two countries compare.In Japan, women are considered to be fragile and defenseless while men are considered to be strong and resilient. This may be true in the sense of physical attributes but in terms of equality, it is different. However, within the realms of fairytales, this is how gender roles are perceived.
To show an example of this we will look at a story called “Momotaro”. In the story, there was a boy that was found inside a peach floating down a river. He had amazing powers like super strength. And like anyone with great power he also had a great responsibility.
Momotaro helped everyone that he could and became a respectable man who protected the weak from harm. And when he had heard of the demons on a faraway island harassing local villages— he set off on an adventure to vanquish them. This shows within the cultural scope of Japanese society how men were to be perceived as strong beings and protectors. On the contrary, in China, men and women are perceived differently than how they are in Japan.
For example, in the story “Ode to Mulan” a woman was proven to be as strong and cunning as a man when she went to war in her father’s stead and became victorious. Throughout the story, she had overcome many trials and tribulations in the war and ended up becoming an outstanding warrior and general. It was only at the end of the story that she was discovered to be a woman. In the story, it explains how she would have been executed for impersonating a man and fighting in the war. However, due to her accomplishments, she was spared and even celebrated because of her skills as a warrior.
This goes to show in Chinese culture women have been thought of as a lesser being than man and therefore not worthy to fight for their country, as it is a great honor to die for one’s country. According to Cornwall, “the concept of gender… is about recognizing inequalities in power”(Cornwall, Page 405). With this in mind, the overall concept of gender is based on one’s lack of power. So, this shows how even though Mulan was a woman she wielded great power and influence and was therefore given the respect of a man.
In conclusion, Both countries use their folktales to convey their ideology to their people. So, they can foster their set of morals and values to create a medium in which their people can view the world. Whether it be on their view on gender roles or their ways of thinking.