Kunio Yanagita

Kunio Yanagita (柳田 國男 Yanagita Kunio, July 31, 1875 – August 8, 1962) was a Japanese scholar and considered the father of Japanese native folkloristics, or minzokugaku.[1]

Kunio Yanagita
柳田 國男
Kunio Yanagita
Kunio Yanagita, circa 1940
Kunio Matsuoka

July 31, 1875
DiedAugust 8, 1962 (aged 87)
Tokyo, Japan
OccupationBureaucrat, Scholar, Writer
Known forTōno Monogatari (遠野物語)

Momotarō no Tanjō(桃太郎の誕生)

Nihon mukashibanashi meii ("Japanese Folk Tales")
Spouse(s)Taka Yanagita (1904)
Parent(s)Yakusai Matsuoka (father) Naohei Yanagita (father-in-law)


Born Kunio Matsuoka in Fukusaki, Hyōgo Prefecture to Yakusai Matsuoka, a local physician. The fifth of eight children, Yanagita's prospects of inheritance were poor. A prominent court justice with no sons, Naohei Yanagita saw the ambitious Matsuoka a promising heir and offered his daughter Taka's hand in marriage in exchange for adopting the family name. Kunio recognized the benefit of adopting the Yanagita name, and was formally adopted into the family in 1901.[2]

After graduating with a degree in law from Tokyo Imperial University, he became employed as a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce. In the course of his bureaucratic duties, Yanagita had the opportunity to travel throughout mainland Japan. During these business trips, Yanagita became increasingly interested in observing and recording details pertaining to local village customs. Under the influence of literary friends such as the writer Shimazaki Toson, Yanagita published works supposedly based on local oral traditions such as Tales of Tono (1912). He collaborated extensively with folklorist Kizen Sasaki, and they published several books together.

The Matsuoka brothers prior to Kunio's adoption by Yanagita

Yanagita's focus on local traditions was part of a larger effort to insert the lives of commoners into narratives of Japanese history. He argued that historical narratives were typically dominated by events pertaining to rulers and high-ranking officials. Yanagita claimed that these narratives focused on elite-centered historical events and ignored the relative uneventfulness and repetition that characterized the lives of ordinary Japanese people across history. He emphasized the unique practices of different groups of common people, such as sanka or mountain dwellers, and island dwellers. His work is frequently groundbreaking and sometimes has unique cultural records.[3]

Major works

Kunio yanagita01 1920
Yakusai Matsuoka's home
  • Tōno Monogatari (遠野物語) – a record of folk legends (as opposed to a folk tale) gathered in Tono, Iwate Prefecture. Famous yōkai in the stories include kappa and zashiki-warashi.[4]
  • Kagyūkō (蝸牛考) – Yanagita revealed that the distribution of dialects for the word snail forms concentric circles on the Japanese archipelago.
  • Momotarō no Tanjō (桃太郎の誕生) – He depicted some facets of Japanese society by analyzing the famous folk tale Momotaro. His methodology was followed by many ethnologists and anthropologists.
  • Kaijō no Michi (海上の道) – He sought the origin of the Japanese culture in Okinawa, though many of his speculations were denied by later researchers. He was inspired by picking up a palm nut borne by the Kuroshio Current when he was wandering on a beach in Iragomisaki, Aichi Prefecture.
  • Yanagita Kunio Guide to the Japanese Folk Tale – A selection of Japanese folktales and data from Yanagita Kunio's Nihon mukashi-banashi meii (日本昔話名彙), translated by Fanny Hagin Meyer.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Mori, Koichi (1980). Yanagita Kunio: An Interpretive Study. Nanzan University: Japanese Journal of Religious Studies.
  2. ^ Yonemoto, Marcia (2016). The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520292000.
  3. ^ Yokoyama, Manabu (1987). Ryûkyû koku shisetsu torai no kenkyû 琉球国使節渡来の研究. Tokyo: Yoshikawa kôbunkan.
  4. ^ Yanagita, Kunio; Translated by Ronald A. Morse (2008). The Legends of Tono. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-2767-4.
  5. ^ Yanagita, Kunio; Translated by Fanny Hagin Meyer (1986). Yanagita Kunio Guide to the Japanese Folk Tale. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-36812-X.

External links

Fukusaki, Hyōgo

Fukusaki (福崎町, Fukusaki-chō) is a town in Kanzaki District, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan.

As of April 30, 2017, the town had an estimated population of 19,516 and a density of 430 persons per km². The total area is 45.82 km².

Japanese folktales

Japanese folktales are an important cultural aspect of Japan. In commonplace usage, they signify a certain set of well-known classic tales, with a vague distinction of whether they fit the rigorous definition of folktale or not. The admixed imposters are literate written pieces, dating back to the Muromachi period (14th-16th centuries) or even earlier times in the Middle Ages. These would not normally qualify as "folktales" (i.e., pieces collected from oral tradition among the populace).

In a more stringent sense, "Japanese folktales" refer to orally transmitted folk narrative. Systematic collection of specimens was pioneered by folklorist Kunio Yanagita. Yanagita disliked the word minwa (民話), a coined term directly translated from "folktale" (Yanagita stated that the term was not familiar to actual old folk he collected folktales from, and was not willing to "go along" with the conventions of other countries). He therefore proposed the use of the term mukashibanashi (昔話, "tales of long ago") to apply to all creative types of folktales (i.e., those that are not "legendary" types which are more of a reportage).


The Jubokko (Japanese: 樹木子, "tree child") is a yōkai tree in Japanese folklore that appears in many books related to Japanese yōkai, including Shigeru Mizuki's works.

According to folklore, it appears in former battlefields where many people have died, and its appearance does not differ that much from ordinary trees. Since it becomes a yōkai tree by sucking up large quantities of blood from the dead, it lives on human blood. When a human being happens to pass by, it supposedly captures the victim and, changing its branches into the shape of a tube, sucks the blood out of the victim. A Jubokko that sucks life out of human beings in such a way is said to always maintain a fresh appearance. When a Jubokko is cut, blood trickles out. It is said that a Jubokko branch could heal and decontaminate an injured person.

Kaii-Yōkai Denshō Database

The Kaii-Yōkai Denshō Database (怪異・妖怪伝承データベース) is a database of yōkai and mystery stories which have been collected from Japanese folklore. The database is published by International Research Center for Japanese Studies. The prototype was created on March 19, 2002, and the first live version was released on June 20, 2002. the project supervisor is Kazuhiko Komatsu (小松和彦), a Japanese folklorist who is a professor of the study of yōkai.

The database includes verbal information, without visual information. Data are collected from:

Akira Takeda (竹田旦) "民俗学関係雑誌文献総覧" 1978

"日本随筆大成" 1975 - 1978

Kunio Yanagita "妖怪名彙"

Books of histories of Japanese local governments.For each item, in the database has an abstract of around 100 characters. The full text is searchable, and the database can be searched by name or the region where the item was found.

Kappa (folklore)

A kappa (河童, , river-child), also known as kawatarō (川太郎, , "river-boy"), komahiki (駒引, , horse-puller), kawatora (川虎, , river-tiger) or suiko (水虎, , water-tiger) is an amphibious yōkai demon or imp found in traditional Japanese folklore. They are typically depicted as green, human-like beings with webbed hands and feet and a turtle-like carapace on their backs. A depression on its head, called its "dish" (sara), retains water, and if this is damaged or its liquid is lost (either through spilling or drying up), the kappa is severely weakened.

The kappa are known to favor cucumbers and love to engage in sumo wrestling. They are often accused of assaulting humans in water and removing a mythical organ called the shirikodama from their victim's anus.

Kizen Sasaki

Kizen Sasaki (佐々木喜善, Sasaki Kizen), also sometimes Sun-Hee Sasaki and Kyōseki Sasaki (5 October 1886 – 29 September 1933), was a Japanese folklorist, sometimes known as the Japanese Grimm.

Kojin Karatani

Kōjin Karatani (柄谷 行人, Karatani Kōjin, born August 6, 1941, Amagasaki) is a Japanese philosopher and literary critic.


Kunio (written: 邦夫, 邦男, 邦雄, 邦生, 國男, 國士, 国男, 国夫, 州男 or 久仁生) is a masculine Japanese given name. Notable people with the name include:

Kunio Busujima (毒島 邦雄, born 1925), Japanese businessman

Kunio Egashira (江頭 邦雄, 1937–2008), Japanese businessman

Kunio Hamada (濱田 邦夫, born 1936), Japanese judge

Kunio Hatoyama (鳩山 邦夫, born 1948), Japanese politician

Kunio Hiramatsu (平松 邦夫, born 1948), Japanese mayor

Kunio Ishii (石井 邦生, born 1941), Japanese Go player

Kunio Katō (加藤 久仁生, born 1977), Japanese animator

Kunio Kishida (岸田 國士, 1890–1954), Japanese dramatist and writer

Kunio Kitamura (born 1968), Japanese footballer

Kunio Kobayashi (born 1967), Japanese karateka

Kunio Lemari (1942–2008), Marshallese politician and President of the Marshall Islands

Kunio Maekawa (前川 國男, 1905–1986), Japanese architect

Kunio Masaoka (正岡 国男, 1908–1978), Japanese photographer

Kunio Nakagaki (中垣 國男, 1911–1987), Japanese politician

Kunio Nakagawa (中川 州男, 1898–1944), Japanese general

Kunio Nakamura (中村 邦夫, born 1939), Japanese businessman

Kunio Nagayama (永山 邦夫, born 1970), Japanese footballer

Kunio Ogawa (小川 国夫, 1927–2008), Japanese writer

Kunio Okawara (大河原 邦男, born 1947), Japanese mechanical designer

Kunio Shibata (柴田 国男, born 1948), Japanese cross-country skier

Kunio Shimizu (born 1934), Japanese playwright

Kunio Tsuji (辻 邦生, 1925–1999), Japanese writer

Kunio Yamazaki, Japanese biologist

Kunio Yanagita (柳田 國男, 1875–1962), Japanese folklorist and ethnologist

Kunio Yonehara (米原 邦夫, born 1941), Japanese water polo player

Kunio Yonenaga (米長 邦雄, born 1943), Japanese shogi player


Marebito (稀人 or 客人) is an ancient Japanese word referring to a supernatural being who comes from afar bringing gifts of wisdom, spiritual knowledge and happiness. The word mare means "rare," while -bito (from the word hito) means both "person" and "spirit." The term refers to any one of a number of divine beings who were believed to visit villages in Japan, either from beyond the horizon or from beyond distant mountain ranges, bringing gifts. Villagers usually welcomed a marebito with rituals or festivals.

The 20th-century folklorist Shinobu Orikuchi, student of the great Japanese folklore scholar Kunio Yanagita, was the first to bring the ancient concept of marebito to the attention of modern scholars, and it has been widely assumed that the marebito tradition died out long ago. However, remnants can still be found in some areas of Japan, such as Akita Prefecture, where the Namahage tradition is maintained.


The nurikabe (塗り壁 or 塗壁) is a yōkai, or spirit, from Japanese folklore. Its name translates to "plaster wall," and it is said to manifest as an invisible wall that impedes or misdirects travelers walking at night. Sometimes referred to in English as "The Wall" or "Mr. Wall," this yōkai is described as quite tall, to prevent people from climbing over it, and wide enough to dampen any attempts to go around it. Japanese scholar and folklorist Kunio Yanagita recorded perhaps the most prominent early example of nurikabe and other yōkai in his books. Manga artist Mizuki Shigeru claims to have encountered a nurikabe in New Guinea, inspiring a nurikabe character in his manga Gegege no Kitarō.


Omamori (御守 or お守り, omamori) are Japanese amulets commonly sold at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, dedicated to particular Shinto kami as well as Buddhist figures, and are said to provide various forms of luck or protection.

Satori (folklore)

Satori (覚, "consciousness") in Japanese folklore are mind-reading supernatural monsters ("yōkai") said to live within the mountains of Hida and Mino (presently Gifu Prefecture).

Shinobu Orikuchi

Shinobu Orikuchi (折口 信夫, Orikuchi Shinobu, 11 February 1887–3 September 1953), also known as Chōkū Shaku (釋 迢空, Shaku Chōkū), was a Japanese ethnologist, linguist, folklorist, novelist, and poet. As a disciple of Kunio Yanagita, he established an original academic field named "Orikuchiism" (折口学, Orikuchigaku), which is a mixture of Japanese folklore, Japanese classics, and Shintō. He produced many works in a diversity of fields covering the history of literature, folkloric performing arts, folklore itself, Japanese language, the classics study, Shintōology, ancient study, and so on. Yukio Mishima once called him the "Japanese Walter Pater".


Tamagushi (玉串, literally "jewel skewer") is a form of Shinto offering made from a sakaki-tree branch decorated with shide strips of washi paper, silk, or cotton. At Japanese weddings, funerals, miyamairi and other ceremonies at Shinto shrines, tamagushi are ritually presented to the kami (spirits or gods) by parishioners or kannushi priests.

Tōno, Iwate

Tōno (遠野市, Tōno-shi) is a city in Iwate Prefecture, Japan. As of 1 June 2019, the city had an estimated population of 26,110, and a population density of 31.6 persons per km² in 10,089 households. The total area is 825.97 square kilometres (318.91 sq mi). Tōno is known as "The City of Folklore" for its rural nature, its preservation of traditional culture and especially for the collection of folktales, Tōno Monogatari, written by Kunio Yanagita in 1910.

Wajiro Kon

Wajiro Kon (今和次郎, Kon Wajirō, 10 July 1888 – 27 October 1973) was a Japanese architect, designer, and educator. He is renowned as the father of "modernology", a branch of sociology which studied the changes in cityscape and people which emerged as a consequence of Tokyo becoming a modern metropolis in the early Showa Era.Born in Hirosaki, Kon studied graphic design at Tokyo University of the Arts, and worked with artists and ethnographers. In the 1920s he studied rural Japan with the ethnographer Kunio Yanagita. After the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake he turned his attention to urban life, recording post-disaster conditions in Tokyo.


The term yamabito (山人) or sanjin, as understood in Japanese folklore, has come to be applied to a group, some scholars claim, of ancient, marginalized people, dating back to some unknown date during the Jōmon period of the history of Japan.The term itself has been translated as "Mountain People", or as Dickins interprets the word as "Woodsman", but there is more to it than that. It is from texts recorded by historian Kunio Yanagita that introduced, through their legends and tales, of the concept of being spirited away into Japanese popular culture.


Yanagita (written: 柳田 lit. "willow rice field") is a Japanese surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Kunio Yanagita (柳田 國男, 1875–1962), Japanese scholar

Miyuki Yanagita (柳田 美幸, born 1981), Japanese footballer

Yuki Yanagita (柳田 悠岐, born 1988), Japanese baseball player

Legendary creatures


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