Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
Mythology & Folklore
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Taketori Monogatari) is a 10th century Japanese folktale, also known as The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Kaguya-hime no Monogatari).
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. She is said to be from Tsuki-no Miyako (The Capital of the Moon) and has unusual hair that "shines like gold".
One day while walking in the bamboo forest, an old, childless bamboo cutter called Taketori-no Okina (The Old Man who Harvests Bamboo), comes across a mysterious, shining stalk of bamboo. Cutting it open, inside he finds a baby, the size of his thumb. Rejoicing to find such a beautiful girl, he takes her home and he and his wife raise her as their own child, naming her Kaguya-hime (Princess Kaguya, "radiant night princess"). Thereafter, Taketori-no Okina found that whenever he cut down a stalk of bamboo, inside he found a small nugget of gold. Soon, he was rich, and Kaguya-hime grew from a small baby into a woman of usual size and extraordinary beauty. At first, Taketori-no Okina tries to sequester her from outsiders, but over time, the news of her beauty spreads.
Eventually, five princes come to Taketori-no Okina's residence to ask for Kaguya-hime's hand in marriage. The princes eventually persuade Taketori-no Okina to tell a reluctant Kaguya-hime to choose from one of the five princes. To this, Kaguya-hime concocts impossible tasks for the princes to accomplish. She will agree to marry the prince who manages to bring her a specified item.
That night, Taketori-no Okina tells the five princes what each of them must bring. The first is told to bring her the holy basin of the Buddha. The second is told to retrieve a legendary azalea made of silver and gold. The third is told to seek the legendary Robe of the Fire Rat of China. The fourth must retrieve a colored jewel from a dragon's neck. The final prince is told to find the seashell treasure of the swallows.
Realising that it was an impossible task, the first prince returns with an expensive bowl, but noticing that the bowl does not glow with holy light, Kaguya-hime sees through his deception. Two other princes likewise attempt to deceive her with fakes but also fail. The fourth gives up after encountering a storm, while the final prince loses his life in his attempt to retrieve the object.
After this, the Emperor of Japan, called Tenno in Japanese, comes to see the strangely beautiful Kaguya-hime and upon falling in love asks her to marry him. Although he is not subjected to the impossible trials that thwarted the princes, Kaguya-hime rejects his requests for marriage as well, telling him that she was not of this country and thus could not go to the palace with him. She stays in contact with the Emperor but continues to rebuff his requests.
That summer, whenever Kaguya-hime would see the full moon her eyes filled with tears. Though her adopted parents worry greatly and question her, she is unable to tell them what was wrong. Her behavior becomes increasingly erratic until she reveals that she is 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 as a temporary punishment for some crime, while others say it is because she was sent to earth for safety during a celestial war.
As the day for her to return approaches, the Emperor sets many guards around her house to protect her from the moon people, but when an embassy of "Heavenly Beings" arrives at the door of the Bamboo Harvester's house, the many guards are blinded by the strange light. Kaguya-hime announces that though she loves her many friends on Earth, she must return with the moon people to her true home. She write sad notes of apology to her parents and to the Emperor, then gives her parents her own robe as a memento. She then takes a small taste of the elixir of life, attached it to her letter to the Emperor, and gives it to a guard officer. As she hands it to him, the feather robe is placed on her shoulders, and all of her sadness and compassion for the people of the Earth are forgotten. The heavenly entourage takes Kaguya-hime back to Tsuki-no Miyako (The Capital of the Moon) against her will, leaving her earthly foster parents in tears.
The parents become very sad and were soon put to bed sick. The guard officer returns to the Emperor with the items Kaguya-hime had given him as her last mortal act, and reported what had happened. The Emperor reads her letter and is overcome with sadness. He asks his servants "Which mountain is the closest place to heaven?", to which one replies that the Great Mountain of Suruga Province is the closest place to heaven. The Emperor orders his men to take the letter to the summit of the mountain and burn it, with the hope that his message would reach the now distant princess. The men are also commanded to burn the pot of elixir of immortality since the Emperor did not desire to live forever without being able to see her. The legend has it that the word immortality (fushi or fuji) became the name of the mountain, Mount Fuji. It is also said that the kanji for the mountain, (literally "Mountain Abounding with Warriors") is 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 than today.)
The storyline of the second Inuyasha film, The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass is based almost entirely on the Kaguya-hime legend. The Kaguya in the film is much more malicious that the historical figure, but assigns the same tasks to Kagura and Kanna, as the literary Kaguya did to her suitors. The Robe of the Fire Rat that this historical story dealt with is actually the kimono worn by Inuyasha.