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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Hearn - Rokuro-Kubi - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

If you don't read or speak Japanese -- I don't -- today's title is hard to remember and understand, BUT is a wonderful story from Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan.  Wikipedia tells us even Hearn got it wrong as it's really about a type of rokurokubi whose heads come off, a nukekubi.  (I hear you thinking: Whatever!)  Besides being a case of "Off with their heads!" they are bloodthirsty enough to complete this month's assortment of tales.  
Footnotes omit that Arugi could be translated as Master.
This story could have ended in three places, one of which is in this picture, but be sure to continue on to the end of the tale past the courtroom and even the robber.  (It's rather like a piece of music that fools you into thinking it's ended only to add to the enjoyment.)  
That's my October posts of Lafcadio Hearn, but his "Goblin Spider" and "Chin-Chin-Kobokama" are also excellent choices of spooky material and he has other Japanese and Chinese stories worth telling.  Go back to October 4 to refresh your memory about him and his work.  Rokurokubi, including nukekubi have been included in anime and manga and are part of Japanese folklore with various supernatural creatures or Yokai.  Yokai are in a Wikipedia article and may interest you.  Hearn loved the more chilling of those stories,  but the article can also lead you into animal shapeshifters (not unique to Japanese folklore, but certainly can be found in many tales ... and tails?) as well as some others I enjoy like tengu and also the water creatures called kappa.  

For so long Hearn has been our only major English language window into the culture.  Since 1993 my colleague and friend, Fran Stallings, has partnered with Japanese elder storyteller, Hiroko Fujita, touring together in both the U.S. and Japan and making even more Japanese folklore available by creating various books.  I'm told yet another book is once again in the works.  Hurrah!  Don't know a Japanese equivalent, but want to make readers aware of these resources for those of us who appreciate the culture without planning to learn the language other than maybe call someone to verify an occasional bit of pronunciation.


This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories. 

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my normal monthly posting of a research project here.  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my monthly postings as often as I can manage it.    

There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I recommended it earlier and want to continue to do so.  Have fun discovering even more stories!

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