The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter

"Princess Kaguya" redirects here. For other uses, see Kaguya (disambiguation).
"Taketori Monogatari" redirects here. For the 1987 film, see Princess from the Moon.
Discovery of Princess Kaguya

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (竹取物語 Taketori Monogatari) is a 10th-century Japanese monogatari (fictional prose narrative) containing folkloric elements. It is considered the oldest extant Japanese prose narrative[1][2] although the oldest manuscript dates to 1592.[3]

The tale is also known as The Tale of Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語 Kaguya-hime no Monogatari), after its protagonist.[4] It primarily details the life of a mysterious girl called Kaguya-hime, who was discovered as a baby inside the stalk of a glowing bamboo plant.


Taketori no Okina takes Kaguya-hime to his home, Drawn by Tosa Hiromichi, c. 1600

One day, while walking in the bamboo forest, an old, childless bamboo cutter called Taketori no Okina (竹取翁 "the Old Man who Harvests Bamboo") came across a mysterious, shining stalk of bamboo. After cutting it open, he found inside it an infant the size of his thumb. He rejoiced to find such a beautiful girl and took her home. He and his wife raised her as their own child and named her Kaguya-hime (かぐや姫 accurately, Nayotake-no-Kaguya-hime "princess of flexible bamboos scattering light"). Thereafter, Taketori no Okina found that whenever he cut down a stalk of bamboo, inside would be a small nugget of gold. Soon he became rich. Kaguya-hime grew from a small baby into a woman of ordinary size and extraordinary beauty. At first, Taketori no Okina tried to keep her away from outsiders, but over time the news of her beauty spread.

Eventually, five princes came to Taketori no Okina's residence to ask for Kaguya-hime's hand in marriage. The princes eventually persuaded Taketori no Okina to tell a reluctant Kaguya-hime to choose from among them. Kaguya-hime concocted impossible tasks for the princes, agreeing to marry the one who managed to bring her his specified item. That night, Taketori no Okina told the five princes what each must bring. The first was told to bring her the stone begging bowl of the Buddha Gautama Shakyamuni from India, the second a jeweled branch from the mythical island of Hōrai,[5] the third the legendary robe of the fire-rat of China, the fourth a colored jewel from a dragon's neck, and the final prince a cowry shell born of swallows.

Realizing that it was an impossible task, the first prince returned with an expensive bowl, but after noticing that the bowl did not glow with holy light, Kaguya-hime saw through his deception. Likewise, two other princes attempted to deceive her with fakes, but also failed. The fourth gave up after encountering a storm, while the final prince lost his life (severely injured in some versions) in his attempt.

After this, the Emperor of Japan, Mikado, came to see the strangely beautiful Kaguya-hime and, upon falling in love, asked her to marry him. Although he was not subjected to the impossible trials that had thwarted the princes, Kaguya-hime rejected his request for marriage as well, telling him that she was not of his country and thus could not go to the palace with him. She stayed in contact with the Emperor, but continued to rebuff his requests and marriage proposals.

That summer, whenever Kaguya-hime saw the full moon, her eyes filled with tears. Though her adoptive parents worried greatly and questioned her, she was unable to tell them what was wrong. Her behaviour became increasingly erratic until she revealed that she was not of this world and must return to her people on the Moon. In some versions of this tale, it is said that she was sent to the Earth, where she would inevitably form material attachment, as a temporary punishment for some crime, while in others, she was sent to Earth for her own safety during a celestial war. The gold that Taketori no Okina had been finding had in fact been a stipend from the people of the Moon, sent down to pay for Kaguya-hime's upkeep.

Kaguya-hime goes back to the Moon

As the day of her return approached, the Emperor sent many guards around her house to protect her from the Moon people, but when an embassy of "Heavenly Beings" arrived at the door of Taketori no Okina's house, the guards were blinded by a strange light. Kaguya-hime announced that, though she loved her many friends on Earth, she must return with the Moon people to her true home. She wrote sad notes of apology to her parents and to the Emperor, then gave her parents her own robe as a memento. She then took a small taste of the elixir of life, attached it to her letter to the Emperor, and gave it to a guard officer. As she handed it to him, the feather robe was placed on her shoulders, and all of her sadness and compassion for the people of the Earth were forgotten. The heavenly entourage took Kaguya-hime back to Tsuki-no-Miyako (月の都/京; lit. "the Capital of the Moon"), leaving her earthly foster parents in tears.

The receding Princess

The parents became very sad and were soon put to bed sick. The officer returned to the Emperor with the items Kaguya-hime had given him as her last mortal act, and reported what had happened. The Emperor read her letter and was overcome with sadness. He asked his servants, "Which mountain is the closest place to Heaven?", to which one replied the Great Mountain of Suruga Province. The Emperor ordered his men to take the letter to the summit of the mountain and burn it, in the hope that his message would reach the distant princess. The men were also commanded to burn the elixir of immortality since the Emperor did not wish to live forever without being able to see her. The legend has it that the word immortality (不死 fushi, or fuji) became the name of the mountain, Mount Fuji. It is also said that the kanji for the mountain, 富士山 (literally "Mountain Abounding with Warriors"), are derived from the Emperor's army ascending the slopes of the mountain to carry out his order. It is said that the smoke from the burning still rises to this day. (In the past, Mount Fuji was much more volcanically active.)

Literary connections

Elements of the tale were drawn from earlier stories. The protagonist Taketori no Okina, given by name, appears in the earlier poetry collection Man'yōshū (c. 759; poem# 3791). In it, he meets a group of women to whom he recites a poem. This indicates that there previously existed an image or tale revolving around a bamboo cutter and celestial or mystical women.[6][7]

A similar retelling of the tale appears in the c. 12th century Konjaku Monogatarishū (volume 31, chapter 33), although their relation is under debate.[8]

Banzhu Guniang

In 1957, Jinyu Fenghuang (金玉鳳凰), a Chinese book of Tibetan tales, was published.[9] In early 1970s, Japanese literary researchers became aware that "Banzhu Guniang" (班竹姑娘), one of the tales in the book, had certain similarities with The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.[10][11] Initially, many researchers thought that "Banzhu Guniang" must be related to Tale of Bamboo Cutter, although some were skeptical.

In 1980s, studies showed that the relationship is not as simple as initially thought. Okutsu provides extensive review of the research, and notes that the book Jinyu Fenghuang was intended to be for children, and as such, the editor took some liberties in adapting the tales. No other compilation of Tibetan tales contains the story.[12]

A Tibet-born person wrote that he did not know the story.[13] A researcher went to Sichuan and found that, apart from those who had already read "Jinyu Fenghuang", local researchers in Chengdu did not know the story.[14] Tibetan informants in Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture did not know the story either.[14]


The 1975 Japanese TV series Manga Nihon Mukashi Banashi[15] (Cartoon Tales of Old Japan) contains a 10-minute adaption of the story, directed by Takao Kodama with animation by Masakazu Higuchi and art by Koji Abe.[16]

The Japanese manga series Queen Millennia by Leiji Matsumoto is loosely based on the story. The manga series was adapted into a 42-episode anime TV series by Toei Doga and broadcast on Fuji TV from 1981 to 1982. The series was also broadcast in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Mexico, and Chile. A theatrical anime film, which served as a retelling of the TV series, was released in 1982, shortly before the TV series ended.

Kon Ichikawa made a film of the story in 1987 entitled Princess from the Moon. Composer Robert Moran saw it and composed an opera based on it, From the Towers of the Moon.

In 1988, Japanese composer Maki Ishii asked Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián to produce a ballet for his musical work bearing the name Princess Kaguya. The product was a contemporary ballet named Kaguyahime the Moon Princess, where elements of Western and Japanese cultures combine.

Big Bird in Japan includes schoolchildren performing the play within the story. This ends up serving as foreshadowing to the film's ending twist, in which Big Bird's Japanese guide is revealed to be Princess Kaguya herself.

Naoko Takeuchi's famous Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, which has seen life as a manga series, two anime series, a live-action television show, three anime movies, and a series of stage musicals, blends elements of the story of Princess Kaguya and the Greek myth of Endymion. The series' titular superheroine's civilian name, Tsukino Usagi, means "Rabbit of the Moon," and she is the reincarnation of Princess Serenity of the Moon Kingdom, which flourished over a millennium ago until destroyed by evil forces. The Princess had been enamored of the Earth Prince Endymion, who himself was reborn as Chiba Mamoru, secretly the dapper superhero Tuxedo Kamen, or Tuxedo Mask. The name Endymion came from a Greek tale of a young shepherd (in some retellings a king) who was beloved of the moon goddess Selene, daughter of Zeus.

A side story in the Sailor Moon manga series titled "Princess Kaguya's Lover" (かぐや姫の恋人 "Kaguya hime no Koibito") was inspired by the tale, where an astronomer discovers an approaching comet and dubs it "Princess Snow Kaguya", after his romantic obsession with the Princess Kaguya legend. The comet is revealed to be an invader bent on freezing the Earth and is defeated by the Sailor Senshi. This story was animated as the second of the Sailor Moon movies.

A manga series Legend of the swordmaster Yaiba by Gosho Aoyama featured Kaguya, a moon alien in form of human princess as main antagonist in one arc of its story line.

In Lilpri, Sasahara Natsuki is one of the singers from the Idol Unit "Little Princess" (LilPri). Her character theme is Princess Kaguya, while her other friends and have the themes of Princess Snow White (Yukimori Ringo) and Princess Cinderella (Takashiro Reira), resembling three of Disney's early Princesses, with Princess Kaguya replacing Princess Aurora.

A Vocaloid producer duo, Hitoshizuku-P and Yama△ (more commonly known as Yamashizuku), have released a song titled "1000 Year Time Capsule" using the voice bank MAYU. It is revealed in its release album, If the World, that it is based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, and, indirectly, Kaguya-hime.

The character Kaguya in the game Ōkami is revealed to have been discovered in a large metallic bamboo shaft. She departs for the moon inside a buried bamboo-shaped rocket.

In the eighth Touhou Project game, Imperishable Night, Kaguya appears as the true final boss. In the game she is a fugitive hiding from the lunar capital and its emissaries. Kaguya's spell cards (bullet patterns) are based on the impossible requests. Along with this, the theme of the Extra boss 'Reach for the moon, Immortal smoke' is a reference to the ending of the legend, where the emperor burns the elixir. [17]

The 2001 film Claire is based very loosely on the tale. In the film, an elderly male couple discovers a tiny baby girl in an ear of corn and raise her as their own.

The movie Inuyasha the Movie: The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass is partly based on the tale: When Kaguya-Hime was ascending back to the Moon, she was attacked and devoured by a She-Youkai to gain her eternal life youth. The She-Youkai then disguised herself as Kaguya-Hime, aiming to use her stolen powers to trap the mortal world in frozen time and eternal night. Her plot brings her to the attention of the protagonists, InuYasha, Kagome, Miroku, Sango, Shippo, and Sango's pet Kirara.

In the popular manga series Doraemon, one of Doraemon's gadgets is the "Girl Can". Nobita uses it and from it came a girl, he then named her as Kaguya and decided to raise her as his own daughter. She was later on adopted by an elderly couple at the night of the Full Moon.

A manga (Anata ga Ireba) by Akemi Yoshimura also mentioned this tale, since the main character is the eight incarnation of Princess Kaguya.[18]

In 2008 Arina Tanemura started a manga series titled Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura whose background story is loosely based on Princess Kaguya. The manga ended in December 2012.

The popular manga and anime series Naruto also adapted the concept of Kaguya. In it Kaguya takes a forbidden fruit from the Shinju and becomes the first human to wield chakra. With this power she was able to stop all wars but was feared throughout all the villages. She later gave birth to two sons, Hagoromo and Hamura. The series final installment, The Last: Naruto the Movie, is a loose translation of the story as well, drawing inspiration from the lore.

Studio Ghibli released in November 2013 in Japan an anime film based on the folktale under the title of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.[19]

On April 26, 2014, Hobby Japan released a book in their Queen's Blade series based off the character of Princess Kaguya. In the book, Kaguya is armed with an energy sword, and special jet-powered armored gloves and boots, which are reminiscent of the Marvel Comics character Iron Man.

On 2015, Garo the Animation Featuring Kaguya as one of the protagonist. Her foster parents were told to become a pair of horror.

In 2015, the Trading Card Game Force Of Will began adapting Kaguya, her five treasures, and several were-rabbit warriors into spells, Rulers, and Resonators integrating her into the story.

Popular video game series Pokemon Sun and Moon games feature an "Ultra Beast" monster that takes inspiration from Princess Kaguya, being made of bamboo like structures, female in appearance, and being exclusive to the game version based on the Moon.

See also


  1. "Japan: Literature", Windows on Asia, MSU,
  2. "17. A Picture Contest". The Tale of Genji. the ancestor of all romances)
  3. Katagiri et al. 1994: 95.
  4. Katagiri et al. 1994: 81.
  5. McCullough, Helen Craig (1990). Classical Japanese Prose. Stanford University Press. pp. 30, 570. ISBN 0-8047-1960-8.
  6. Horiuchi (1997:345-346)
  7. Satake (2003:14-18)
  8. Yamada (1963:301-303)
  9. 田海燕, ed. (1957). 金玉鳳凰 (in Chinese). Shanghai: 少年兒童出版社.
  10. 百田弥栄子 (1971). 竹取物語の成立に関する一考察. アジア・アフリカ語学院紀要 (in Japanese). 3.
  11. 伊藤清司 (1973). かぐや姫の誕生―古代説話の起源 (in Japanese). 講談社.
  12. 奥津 春雄 (2000). 竹取物語の研究 (in Japanese). 翰林書房. ISBN 4-87737-097-8.
  13. テンジン・タシ, ed. (2001). 東チベットの民話 (in Japanese). Translated by 梶濱 亮俊. SKK.
  14. 1 2 繁原 央 (2004). 日中説話の比較研究 (in Japanese). 汲古書院. ISBN 4-7629-3521-2.
  15. Manga Nihon Mukashi Banashi (TV '75), Anime news network. Retrieved 2014-10-04.
  16. The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Pelleas. Retrieved 2014-10-04.
  17. ZUN (15 August 2004). "あとがき 上海アリス通信". Team Shanghai Alice.
  18. Manick(Code&Html)JYT(Design). "Baka-Updates Manga - Anata ga Ireba". Retrieved 2016-05-22.
  19. "Kaguya-hime monogatari" (in Japanese). JP. Retrieved December 29, 2014.


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