Home > Highlighting JAPAN >Highlighting Japan September 2014>Student's Corner

Highlighting JAPAN

previous Next

Student's Corner

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Once upon a time there was an old man and his wife. The old man harvested bamboo from a grove and wove baskets and strainers from it to make a living.

One day when the old man went to the bamboo grove, he found a stalk of bamboo that was glowing at its base. Puzzled, he cut the stalk, and was astonished to discover a tiny girl inside. The old man and his wife, who had no children, were overjoyed. They named the child Kaguyahime—meaning “Princess Kaguya”—and raised her as their pride and joy.

Strange things started to happen from the day after the girl came to the bamboo-cutter’s house. Every time the old man would go to cut bamboo, he would find nuggets of gold inside the bamboo stalks. The old man and his family quickly became rich.
As Princess Kaguya grew up, she became dazzlingly beautiful. When she came of age, many young men came to propose marriage. Five of her suitors were particularly enthusiastic. Princess Kaguya told them: “I will marry the one who brings me the gift for which I ask.” She then gave each suitor an impossible task: one she asked to retrieve a bowl used by the Buddha; another for a branch from a tree with roots of silver, a trunk of gold, and fruits that were pearls; and other items just as unattainable in this world.

The five suitors hastened to carry out their impossible tasks, but they all ultimately failed. Finally, the Emperor of Japan himself declared that he wished to marry Princess Kaguya. Hearing this, the old man and his wife rejoiced. However, Princess Kaguya had no intention of marrying the Emperor. The Emperor would not take no for an answer, however, no matter how many times she refused his proposal.

Princess Kaguya began to gaze sadly up at the moon and cry every night. This worried the old man and his wife, so one day they asked her what was wrong. Princess Kaguya replied: “The moon is my true home. During the next full moon emissaries will come for me, and I will have to return home.” When they heard this, the old man and his wife were surprised and dismayed. They went to the Emperor and asked him to chase the moon’s emissaries away.

During the next full moon, the Emperor sent thousands of soldiers to surround Princess Kaguya’s house and protect her. At the stroke of midnight, however, the soldiers all suddenly fell asleep as if they were under a magic spell. And so the emissaries came, and Princess Kaguya said thank you and bowed good-bye to the old couple, and returned with the emissaries to the moon.

THE HOME OF Princess Kaguya

The thick groves of bamboo that stretch across Kyoto’s Nishiyama area are said to be the origin of the legend of Princess Kaguya. This area is home to many places rich in history, such as ancient burial mounds and venerable temples. Here you can also find Kaguya-hime Take-goten (“Princess Kaguya’s Bamboo Palace”), which was constructed by the famous bamboo craftsman Seisuke Nagano over the course of twenty-seven years. At Take-goten, which is modeled after the famous temple of Kinkakuji, visitors can write their wishes on pieces of origami and fold them into paper cranes, which are then given as offerings.

previous Next