Nagano: A land rich in folk tales and legends


Nagano Prefecture with its towering, forest-covered mountains is rightly known as the "Roof of Japan." It is a place with a rarefied atmosphere, steeped in ancient history and mysterious arts. It is not surprising, then, that Nagano Prefecture is also rich in legends and folk tales. In this land, super dogs fight demons, badgers become human, and water sprites and monsters try to drag unwitting victims to watery graves.

The 23 stories in this new English translation bring together a diverse set of legends and folktales for an international audience. The antics of the eccentric Dr Motosada, the unique powers of the good woman from Takai district, and the shrewd antics of Red Ant Matabei are both amusing and entertaining.

Translated by Nagano residents Peter Ninnes and Sachiko Miyairi, the stories provide insights into the development and transmission of various Japanese values, social norms, and cultural practices.

“We have included some classic stories” Ninnes said. “At the same time, we did not want to put together a set of stories that simply re-stated traditional values. Instead, we intentionally included stories about people who successfully transgressed or transcended traditional roles and requirements.”

As part of the research, Ninnes and Miyairi travelled all over Nagano Prefecture, trying to find the original site of the stories. The collection contains color photographs of the villages, towns, mountains and rivers where the stories are set, as well as memorials to the heroes and characters whose feats are described.

Ninnes is well known in Nagano and around Japan for his series of Nagano tour guides and his Nagano Onsen Guide. Of this new book of folk tales and legends, he observed, “It would make a great gift for friends and family outside Japan. As well as being fun to read, the stories tell us a lot about this unique country.”

The translations are in relatively easy English, and any Japanese people who can read English at high school level would also find the stories understandable and interesting.

The book is available as a Kindle edition and paperback from Amazon, and as an E-book in a wide variety of formats from Smashwords.

Book Details

"Legendary Nagano: Folk Tales and Legends from the Roof of Japan." Translated and edited by Peter Ninnes and Sachiko Miyairi. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform and Smashwords, 2014.

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