Last Updated on March 3, 2023 by Jella Erhard
Enchanting Japanese Folktales & Fairy Tales Everyone Should Read
Japanese folktales and fairy tales have been inspiring and beguiling readers and writers for thousands of years.
We collected some of the most famous Japanese folklore and tales that everyone should read who loves fairy tales. Through these magical and even scary tales and myths, you can explore Japan and its culture better and learn about its history on a deeper level.
You’ll find here stories with a moral lesson, scary Japanese fairy tales, and the most famous Japanese folktales in English. You can travel through this fascinating country even when you can’t visit in person and meet Japanese mythical creatures, ghosts, and legends that are thousands of years old. In fact, we added a fairy tale that’s the oldest surviving Japanese work of fiction and is considered the world’s first novel ever.
You’ll also find here Japanese stories for language learners who want to learn about the culture. If you want to learn more about the Japanese language and looking for fun games, books, and resources that will help you do that check out our guide for Japanese Learners.
In case you’re looking for more folk tales, fairy tales or fantasy books you should check out our other book lists and bookish guides or visit our online book nook filled with exciting lesser-known books, classic novels, and new book releases from around the world.
Read The Most Beautiful Japanese Folktales & Fairy Tales
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11| The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore by Michael Dylan Foster (Author), Shinonome Kijin (Illustrator)
Explore the colorful Japanese culture through this beautiful collection.
Michael Dylan Foster had been researching Japanese myths for many years and offers a thorough insight for everyone. If you are an anime or manga fan then you may find some supernatural creatures that inspired a number of creators.
From the cutest to the most appalling creatures you can find many monsters and ghosts that will help you understand Japanese culture better. Besides the descriptions and historic background of each being, the illustration is fascinating as well.
This superb collection would definitely make a great gift for anime and Japanese culture lovers and those who enjoy myths and bestiary books.
The Book of Yokai by Michael Dylan Foster contains exciting and famous Japanese folklore everyone will love.
10| Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic (Book of Japanese Mythology, Folk Tales from Japan) by Chronicle Books (Author), Kotaro Chiba (Illustrator)
In this decorative piece, you are going to find 15 stories, which aren’t simply beautifully written but also sometimes a little scary. Not all folklore stories are frightening, some will help you understand Japanese culture better, while others will make you think. If you enjoy Japanese short stories with a moral lesson, this collection is for you.
Besides the fantastic tales, you can also find superb illustrations. Furthermore, the book itself looks so precious, every Japanese culture enthusiast is going to love this. If you are stuck with gift ideas for Japanese culture lovers, this one would definitely be a good choice.
Tales of Japan by Chronicle Books is one of the most remarkable collections of Japanese folktales in English.
9| Japanese Mythology: A Captivating Guide to Japanese Folklore, Myths, Fairy Tales, Yokai, Heroes and Heroines by Matt Clayton
As Japan is a very old country with a long and colorful history, there is plenty to learn about each region. If you really want to learn about Japanese culture you’ll have to devote some time to it.
This book attempts to showcase the culture’s versatility with success. By reading this book you can learn a lot about how these myths and folklores were born and how they evolved.
Additionally, there are many creatures, heroes, and heroines you ought to know if you really love myths and folklore. Learn about Japanese people and history by taking a peek into their fascinating legends.
Japanese Mythology by Matt Clayton is undoubtedly among the most captivating collections that also include scary Japanese fairy tales.
8| Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki
Even if you start with the English version, these are great Japanese stories for language learners. As it helps understand more about the country’s culture, it is definitely a good start. This collection of 22 Japanese short stories with a moral lesson will allow you to explore Japanese culture.
From the most adorable little creatures through odd beings all the way to horrible beasts, you are going to find everything.
Just as everywhere around the world, folklore and fairy tales were created with the intention of educating people and these stories all have something to learn from.
Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki is a beautiful collection of famous Japanese folklore everyone should read.
7| Urashima Taro by Robert B. Goodman, George Suyeoka (Illustrator)
Urashima Taro is the most well-known hero of a beloved Japanese fairy tale. His story inspired many people to remain good and always protect others.
Robert B. Goodman’s book shows perfectly how smart Japanese fairy tales are. With a few words, they could turn everyone’s life upside down and help them think positively.
The beloved famous Japanese folklore changed over the centuries, however, the core of the story remained the same. It definitely sets a good example for little ones, but grown-ups will love this story too.
This beautifully illustrated book is a perfect gift for both adults and children.
Urashima Taro by Robert B. Goodman is one of the most beloved Japanese folklore stories that have a beautiful moral lesson.
6| Green Willow and Other Japanese Fairy Tales by Grace James (Author), Warwick Goble (Illustrator)
This classic piece is certainly going to sweep every Japanese culture lover off their feet. Highly regarded folklorist Grace James and talented illustrator Warwick Golbe were both fascinated by Japanese culture.
In this book you can find 40 original illustrations by Golbe made with watercolor over ink. Each of the 38 fairy tales is beautifully written and amazingly complex. Some of the most famous tales will ring a bell, however, there are lesser-known stories as well.
This enchanting book is a great addition to every Japanese culture lover’s library, while younger readers will also find something to love in the pages of this collection.
Green Willow and Other Japanese Fairy Tales by Grace James (Author), Warwick Goble (Illustrator) is amid the most fascinating collection of Japanese folktales in English.
5| The Matsuyama Mirror Fairy Tale by Mrs. T. H. James
Scottish author and translator Mrs. T.H. James loved Japanese culture and whenever she had the chance, she surrounded herself with it. She was known for translating Japanese children’s stories including fairy tales.
The Matsuyama Mirror is among the better known Japanese short stories with a moral lesson. It was first published on crepe paper and the illustrations were on hand-painted woodcuts. You can still find original copies, however, it is very difficult to actually purchase them.
This book is part of a series called Japanese Fairy Tale Series, it’s numbered 10, and there are 20 books altogether.
The Matsuyama Mirror Fairy Tale by Mrs. T. H. James is definitely one of the most beautiful Japanese fairy tales.
4| The Tale of Genji (Kodansha’s Illustrated Japanese Classics) by Yasunari Kawabata (Author), Donald Keene (Translator)
The original story is said to be from around the ninth century. Historians are not sure when it was written some details indicate it was written in the 9th century but many believe it’s from between the 10th and 11th century and was written by a noblewoman. It is the oldest surviving written Japanese folklore as it dates back to around 1000 which makes the original The Tale of Genji novel the oldest novel ever written.
This piece is most definitely among the most touching Japanese fairy tales, many literature lovers refer to it as the ancestor of all romances.
This amazing story is now available in English and besides the touching story, beautiful illustrations are going to entertain readers.
The Tale of Genji by Yasunari Kawabata (Author), Donald Keene (Translator) is certainly among the most heartwarming Japanese folktales in English.
3| Momotaro the Peach Boy: A Japanese Folktale (Folktales from Around the World) by M. J. York (Adapter), Betsy Thompson (Illustrator)
Another empowering story that is definitely going to make everyone feel some warmth in their chest.
A little boy was found in a floating peach and after a couple rescued him, they took him in. Thanks to all the love and support, he grew strong and then did his best to protect his village from all sorts of demonic creatures.
By reading this folktale you are going to learn a lot about beliefs and see various dark beings that were believed to lurk in the shadows. The book is a piece of art, which most certainly would make every Japanese culture lover happy for sure.
Momotaro the Peach Boy by M. J. York is surely a great read if you are looking for Japanese stories for language learners.
2| The tongue cut sparrow: Shitakiri Suzume by Eitaku Kobayashi
Another remarkable folktale that captivated millions of people over the centuries. In the past decades, it spread all over the world thanks to David Thompson’s translation.
The story revolves around revenge and just like most Japanese short stories with a moral lesson, this one has a good point for everyone. Readers are going to be by every page of this book as the story is illustrated by Ukiyo-e master Eitaku Kobayashi.
It is actually a pretty sad story, which teaches readers how bad greed and revenge can be, while how important friendships are.
The tongue cut sparrow: Shitakiri Suzume by Eitaku Kobayashi is amid the most memorable Japanese folktales.
1| The Star Lovers
If you enjoy love stories, then this beautiful piece will most certainly become your next favorite. The deity of Light’s daughter Weaving Maiden was madly in love with the Herd Boy of Heaven but she couldn’t be with him. When her father realized she was sad he pushed his daughter to enjoy her life, but then he regretted it.
Thinking she was spending too much time with the boy, after three warnings he banished the boy. Later, the girl was even in worse pain and while the boy couldn’t return, a bridge opened up on the seventh day of the seventh moon so they could finally reunite.
You can read this beautiful story in Green Willow: And Other Japanese Fairy Tales by James, Grace and Goble, Warwick (illustrator) or check it out online on Gutenber.org.
The Star Lovers is among the most beautiful romantic Japanese fairy tales readers can find.
Thank you for reading!