Otogizoshi: The Fairy Tale Book of Dazai Osamu


Otogizōshi: The Fairy Tale Book of Dazai Osamu

by DAZAI Osamu
Translated by Ralph MCCARTHY

Introduction by Joel Cohn

Momotarō, Click-Clack Mountain, The Sparrow Who Lost Her Tongue, The Stolen Wen, Urashima-san . . . The father reads these old tales to the children. Though he's shabbily dressed and looks to be a complete fool, this father is a singular man in his own right. He has an unusual knack for making up stories.

Once upon a time, long, long ago . . .

Even as he reads the picture book aloud in a strangely imbecilic voice, another, somewhat more elaborate tale is brewing inside him.

Dazai Osamu wrote The Fairy Tale Book (Otogizōshi) in the last months of the Pacific War. The traditional tales upon which Dazai's retellings are based are well known to every Japanese schoolchild, but this is no children's book. In Dazai's hands such stock characters as the kindhearted Ojī-san to Obā-san ("Grandmother and Grandfather"), the mischievous tanuki badger, the fearsome Oni ogres, the greedy old man, the "tongue-cut" sparrow, and of course Urashima Tarō (the Japanese Rip van Winkle) become complex individuals facing difficult and nuanced moral dilemmas. The resulting stories are thought-provoking, slyly subversive, and often hilarious.


  • Pages: xv + 125
  • Trade paperback 5" x 8" (127mm x 203mm)
  • ISBN:
    Softcover 978-4-902075-40-3
    Ebook 978-4-902075-44-1
  • Cover: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka


  • ...this is meaty fare as lively, unpredictable, brainy, and fun to read as any other book I put at the very top. Few can touch Dazai's gift for description, his sea cherries and underwater fires and hills of pearls that our tour guide tortoise tells us are merely "oyster poop." His gentle observations about life come in waves: "People who live pretty sweet lives don't tend to be of much use to others." This translation by R. M. McCarthy is superior, deft, delightful to read. I'm sure that if he hasn't caught the spirit and letter of Dazai Osamu, he may have well have improved on it.
    —Poe Ballantine, review on Amazon.com
  • I found this book to be a delightful read. (Delightful? I can't believe I keep using these words for Japanese fiction. Only they fit). I found the author's reworking of the characters to be both clever and insightful, especially when you consider that he is supposedly huddled up in a wartime bunker while composing these tales.
    —Review on Amazon.com

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About the author

Dazai Osamu (太宰 治; 1909–1948)
One of the foremost fiction writers of 20th-century Japan, Dazai is probably most famous for his ironic and gloomy wit. His best-known work, The Setting Sun (Shayō, 斜陽) was published in 1947, brilliantly depicting the decline of the Japanese nobility after World War II. Based on the diary of lover Shizuko Ōta (太田静子), who mothered his daughter Haruko (治子) in 1947, it made Dazai a nationwide celebrity.
In spite of the "gloom and doom" atmosphere always cited in reviews of The Setting Sun and the later No Longer Human (Ningen Shikkaku, 人間失格, 1948), though, Dazai's cutting wit and rich humor are evident in the entire body of his work. His literature depicts the human condition in painfully blunt and realistic terms, but, like life itself, is often accompanied by a smile.

About the translator

Ralph McCarthy lives in Southern California. He has translated two previous collections of Dazai stories, Self Portraits and Blue Bamboo, as well as a number of novels by Ryu Murakami, including In the Miso Soup and Popular Hits of the Showa Era. His most recent translation is Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama.

About the introduction author

Joel Cohn is Associate Professor of Japanese Literature and former Chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He has translated several works of Japanese literature from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. His translation of Natsume Sōseki's novel Botchan (1906) was co-winner of the 2006 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature. He is also the author of Studies in the Comic Spirit in Modern Japanese Fiction (Harvard University Asia Center, 1998).