The main characters in these folktales are quite a mixture: the sun, the moon, stars, mountains, trees and rocks, and also human beings, animals like cows and horses, creatures like birds, snakes, mice, and insects; in other words, all creation could be the main character of a folktale (minwa).
There are several categories of minwa in this website. You can enjoy each minwa in your own way, but here I will briefly explain these categories.
First, ‘Animal Tales’. These tell how human beings can live together with other living creatures and are told by characters like tiny insects or animals. ‘Originating Tales’ tell us about natural phenomena: for example, why salt came to divide life and death.
‘Ogre and Ghost Tales’ feature imaginary monsters like ogres and invisible ghosts as if they existed in the everyday world. Impossible stories like, ‘Marriage between Humans and Non-human Creatures Tales’, give readers the opportunity to use their imagination. The same goes for ‘Giving Birth by Egg and Conceiving by Sunlight Tales’. These are traditional North East Asian traditional myths, but they seem to be somehow possible in the old times.
‘Stepchild Tales’ tell sad stories about stepchildren and their families: however, this type of tale remains popular as myths and folktales in other areas as well. ‘Ghost Tales’ seem to have been popular in the post WW2 era, when people were still very poor - the tales still sound realistic even now. ‘Moral Tales’ often tell about something very unrealistic at first, then show us the right path to learn by. These were tales for children in the time when there were no schools, to pass on the social morals within family and community.
‘Miscellaneous Tales’ contains all the tales which do not fit into any specific category. Among the miscellaneous tales, there are stories such as‘A Flower Blooms in the Sea’, which tells about a dutiful child, and ‘Monkey Lord’, which is known as ‘Fire’s New Year’ in main land Japan. ‘Legend Tales’is a collection of tales about the Miyako islands which are not only categorized as folktales, but also as‘myth’or ‘historical legend’, for example,‘Nakasonetoyomiya’ or ‘Tobitorishu’.
Finally, ‘Comical Tales’ certainly contains plenty of humour, particularly about the time when the Miyako islands were treated as a colony and the people were oppressed: this type of humour was the only way to protest against officialdom.
Among all these themes/categories of tales, the animal tales, where animals behave like human beings, are so numerous it is as if minwa (folktales) are urging human beings to be more sensible as it is not only they who are living on this planet.
Now, are you ready to come on this Minwa journey with us?
(Tranlation into English by Sachiyo Fujita-Round)