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Love In Japanese Folktales

By James
December 29, 2021

The history of Valentine’s Day in Japan as we know it today started with attempts by confectioners to sell special heart shaped sweets to consumers in the mid 1930s. Even so, it didn’t start to catch on until the 1970s, making it a relatively young entrant on the Japanese calendar. 

Historically, love has been a constant theme in storytelling around the world, as it’s one of the defining emotions of the human experience. Long before there was a day specifically set aside to celebrate love in Japan, certain folktales kept the dream of finding true love alive. 

Because each story has unique situations, these tales proved that there’s not just one correct way to find true love. No matter your experiences it’s possible to ‘live happily ever after’ in a way that suits you.

Red Thread of Fate

Less of a story and more of a belief, long ago in Japanese culture it was common to think that fate played a huge role in deciding who you would marry. This ‘red thread’ of destiny brought hope as it promised each person that a soul mate was connected to them by the invisible thread tied around the pinky finger, keeping longing hearts hopeful no matter how long it took to reach the other end. This legend has even been cited as an inspiration behind certain themes in the 2016 hit anime film ‘Your Name’.  

Sakura & Yohiro

The word ‘sakura’ is well-known as the Japanese term for ‘cherry blossom’ and even for being a symbol of the nation itself. But did you know that the folk origin of the flower is all about true love?  

The Story:

A tree named Yoshiro was so stunted by the world’s wars that it couldn’t bloom, so a forest spirit cast a spell to allow it to become human and feel emotions, in the hope that it could find joy. The tree tried and almost gave up, but saw a beautiful girl named Sakura near a river. They warmly shared stories of their hopes and dreams. The forest spirit who cast the spell appeared and asked Sakura to make a choice – did she desire for Yohiro to become human for good, or would she agree to become a tree as well? Sakura said she loved him, so the two became one new tree, which suddenly blossomed with the first cherry blossoms the world had ever known. 

Since then, the beautiful shades of pink and white blossoms that dot the landscape across Japan each spring affirm Sakura & Yohiro’s love.

The Hare of Inaba

Japan’s first love story, it’s from the ancient text the ‘Kojiki’, which was compiled in the 8th century and is the oldest record of Japanese history. Today, Hakuto (‘White Rabbit’) Shrine in southwestern Japan, near the story’s setting, is dedicated to love. As such, many people visit to pray for good luck in romance.

The Story:

A hare, trapped on an island, is attacked by sharks when returning to land. A group of 80 brothers finds the weak rabbit on their way to woo Princess Yakami. One brother says ‘wash in the sea and dry in the wind’, which brings it more pain. Luckily, Onamuchi, the youngest, told the rabbit to wash at a river and roll in pollen. The rabbit is healed, and reveals they are a god. As thanks, the god tells Onamuchi that he will marry Princess Yakami.

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