Otogi Zoshi (illustrated story books) (御伽草子)

Otogi Zoshi are illustrated short stories, and the style, established during the Muromachi period into the Edo period. It is sometimes used broadly to indicating medieval novels centering around the Muromachi era. It is also written お伽草子 (Otogi Zoshi) or おとぎ草子 (Otogi Zoshi).

300 plus books are said to exist. Although a little more than 100 books are said to be known popularly, the true number is unknown because some books have the same titles and different contents and vice versa. While they flourished around the Muromachi period, they came to be referred to as Otogi Zoshi in the 18th century, around the Kyoho era when Seiemon SHIBUKAWA in Osaka published the following 23 books under the category of "Otogi Bunko" or "Otogi Zoshi."

Bunsho Soshi - Hachikazuki (The bowl bearer) - Komachi Soshi – Onzoshi shima watari - Karaito Soshi - Kohata-kitsune - Nanakusa Soshi - Sarugenji Zoshi - Monogusataro - Sazareishi - Hamaguri no Soshi - Koatsumori - Nijushi-ko - Bontenkoku - Nosesaru Soshi - Neko no Soshi - Hamaide Soshi - Izumishikibu - Issunboshi - Saiki - Urashimataro - Shutendoji - Nekobue Soshi

Many are based on ancient fairy tales such as "Neko no Soshi", which is understood to have originated at the beginning of the 17th century. There are some stories which have common contents with other categories of literature, such as "Yokobue Soshi" in which a similar story to "Heike Monogatari" (The tale of the Heike) is found. There are some stories that became subject matter for classical performing arts like "Dojoji-engi," and some that are handed down to the present day as popular folk tales such as "Issun boshi" (dwarf).

Many of Otogi Zoshi were created as copy printings with illustrations, which had a strong element to amuse people. The text was relatively easy to read. The plots are simple and ambiguous, as many Setsuwa (anecdotes) are, and many are simple, lacking complicated composition and detailed descriptions.

However, that is not to say that all Otogi Zoshi were reading material only for women and children, and the narrative forms of Otogi Zoshi are thought to have been created as a result of complicated, overlapping conditions of various recreations during that period when narratives began to be enjoyed by general public. The social situation of that time is glimpsed in the implications behind the humor, which also provides clues to understanding medieval folk beliefs. Also, compared with Kana Soshi and Ukiyo Zoshi, which came later, many Otogi Zoshi stories are of unknown authorship. That is based on the traditions of Japanese narrative literature.

Composition of the original
It is generally categorized into the following according to the contents of the anecdotes.

Kuge-mono (court noble story)/Koochikubo, Fuseya no Monogatari (the tale of humble house)
Honji-mono (story of the manifestations of original reality)/Bontenkoku, Atago-jizo Monogatari
Soryo-mono (priest story)/Sanninhoshi (Three priests), Oyo no ama (Oyo the nun)
Buke-mono (warrior family story)/Shuten Doji (the leader of a group of bandits that roamed the region around Kyoto), Benkei Monogatari
General public story/Issunboshi, Monogusataro
Foreign story/Hamaguri no Soshi, Nijushi-ko

Many Otogi Zoshi are collected in the "Muromachijidai Monogatari Taisei" (Kadokawa Shoten Publishing Co., Ltd.).

Derivative works
Independent of these Otogi Zoshi, there is a collection of short stories called "Otogizoshi" that Osamu DAZAI wrote on the subject of Japanese folk stories. It was published in 1945. This is a work that Osamu DAZAI wrote in an air-raid shelter during World War II, and is based on an illustrated book called "Mukashi-mukashi no ohanashi-yo" (literally, this is a story of a long, long time ago), which was read to children.

It is characterized by his uniquely humorous and witty interpretation and narrative tones put into folk stories/fairy tales well known by every Japanese. The author's deep insight into human nature is reflected in this book by his bold and self-deprecating imagination, thus it can be regarded as an outstanding work among his other parodies.

Historical background

DAZAI kept publishing many works even in the so-called literary drought under severe censorship during World War II.. "Otogizoshi" was one of them.


"Otogizoshi" Shincho Bunko (books published by SHINCHOSHA Publishing Co., Ltd.) (Commentary: Takeo OKUNO) ISBN 4-10-100607-5
Included works


Seihintan (A tale of Honorable Poverty)

Shinshaku shokoku banashi (A new version of countries' tales - 12 volumes in all)





kachikachi-yama (Mt. clack-clack)


[Original Japanese]