Kaguya, the Japanese Moon Goddess

Apr 16, 2009
*Special to asia!
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Arguably the best-loved legend in Japan, the story of Kaguya traces its origin from a 10th century Japanese folktale called Taketori Monogatari, or “Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”.

The story tells of a poor bamboo cutter who found a thumb-sized baby girl with glowing hair inside the stalk of a bamboo. The cutter, who lived with his wife, had no children. They adopted the baby and named her Kaguya.

She grew up to become an exceptionally beautiful woman of normal size, and attracted suitors near and far, including the emperor. Kaguya was not interested in mortals, royal or otherwise. To turn them down, she set them impossible tasks. The undertaking of such tasks formed a central part of the legend.

In time Kaguya realized her origin and made preparations to return to the moon. She bid sad farewells to her adopted parents, and wrote a nice letter, attached with a bottle of elixir that granted immortality, to the emperor. After which an entourage came down from the moon and took her back in grand style.

The emperor was heartbroken. He commanded his subjects to take the elixir bottle and the letter to the top of the tallest mountain, which was the closest they could get to the moon. On it the bottle was broken and the letter burnt. Henceforth the mountain was named Fuji, the Japanese version of the Chinese words Bu Xi, or immortality. In the mind of the Japanese, Kaguya and their sacred mountain are inextricably linked.



lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


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