Alice's Academy

Analyzing Ideology in a Japanese Fairy Tale

Jane E. Kelley

Jane E. Kelley is an Assistant Professor of Children's Literature and Literacy Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Washington State University where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses. Her research interests include critical multicultural analysis of children's literature and teacher education.

Jane E. Kelley has written an impressive article that analyzes English-language versions of the Issunboshi fairy tale while discussing Japanese culture and multicultural education. As well as imparting valuable information, it serves as a springboard to exploring Japanese folk and fairy tales for our pleasure, research, or classrooms.
(Elizabeth Pandolfo Briggs, editor, Alice's Academy)


Last year, I had the opportunity to live and work in Japan. It was my first experience traveling abroad, not to mention living in a culture that is considerably different from the United States. As a professor of children's literature, and interested in multicultural literature, it was essential that I experience life in a foreign country. Although I learned much about Japanese culture, I was surprised how much I learned about American culture as well. By having experiences in both cultures, I was more able to discern the cultural differences and to identify cultural practices.

Before my departure, I acquired over 100 recently published children's books about Japanese culture. Albeit, my cultural understanding of Japanese exponentially increased, even after a year I am far from an expert. It would take decades to truly understand another culture that is as deep and different from American as the Japanese culture. For this reason, I took advantage of the opportunity to confer with native Japanese. I wanted to gain their insights to children's books about Japanese culture, traditions, and folk literature. Particularly, I was curious about the authenticity and accuracy of the books written and published outside of Japan. My goal was to share some books with native Japanese people; knowing their feedback and insights would be invaluable to this project.

One day while living in Japan, I shared with my Japanese friend, Little Inchkin, a picture storybook written and illustrated by Fiona French. This story is based on the popular Japanese fairy tale Issunboshi, which is comparable to Tom Thumb. My friend wanted to read the book because she was intrigued by the captivating illustrations. However, after reading the book, she found it to be quite problematic. Mostly, she thought the book incorrectly represented Japanese culture. Further, it was not true to the story that she remembered hearing as a child. Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard (30) asserts that a book is "authentic" when readers from the culture discern that it is true, identify with it, and feel affirmed by it: "We know it is true because we feel it, deep down" (92). After my friend identified a few troublesome aspects of the text, I informally questioned other Japanese natives about cultural aspects depicted in this fairy tale and began collecting other versions of the fairy tale for a textual comparison.

Using Authentic Literature With Children

Many literacy critics and educators believe traditional literature, intended for children, communicates a universal set of values and beliefs. Charlotte Huck recapitulates a popular belief held by many, that traditional literature "can provide a window on cultural beliefs and on the spiritual and psychological qualities that are part of our human nature" (230). Because of this perceived universality of folk literature in everyone's culture, many articles, books, curriculum guides, and government standards suggest the use of folktales to promote multicultural awareness. Folk and fairy tales continue to be disseminated, because they purport, or are seen to present, a rich source of information about cultures.

The International Reading Association (IRA) in conjunction with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) recommends twelve English language arts standards to develop literacy abilities. To help students learn about other cultures, students are encouraged to " a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world..." (Read - Write - Think). In addition to reading texts, students should critically examine texts; that is, they should "...conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people)" (Read - Write - Think). Accordingly, these standards advocate reading texts to understand cultures, and to research and question the texts that are read.

Although many educators use multicultural literature to help students understand diversity, many published books lack accuracy and authenticity. Debbie Reese describes this conundrum as the tension between the "culture of education" and the "culture of literature." Educators aim to find accurate information and representations of culture: "We want to help children learn accurate information about cultures different from their own. We want to help children of color see accurate representations of their cultures in their books" (53). On the contrary, literary writers value intellectual freedom and the freedom of speech: "They view any attempt to close down on these freedoms within the context of children's literature as a very real danger to the American ideals of freedom and our concept of democracy" (54). These discordant views pose a quandary for educators who are obligated to and strive to present authentic books to children with the goal of promoting true multicultural understanding.

While multicultural literature is acclaimed as a bridge to understanding and appreciating unfamiliar cultures, Kathy G. Short and Dana L. Fox argue that educators "must ensure that young people have regular, meaningful engagements with high-quality children's books that are culturally authentic and accurate" (22). Conversely, Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese describe four "pitfalls" or complications when selecting multicultural picture books for young children: the existence of popular but problematic books; the belief that a single book is adequate; the availability of authentic and accurate books; and a lack of time to find and evaluate quality multicultural literature. Further, Weimin Mo and Wenju Shen argue that "cultural experience and research are the only ways to gain insights into the heart of a culture" (203). Evaluating authentic and accurate multicultural literature it is an important endeavor; nonetheless, it is a complex and a time-consuming task. Despite these obstacles, educators must present authentic multicultural literature, have an understanding about the culture they introduce to students, and teach students how to read the book to gain insights about the culture.

In her book Fantasy Literature in the Classroom, Monica Edinger warns educators about using fairy tales to teach about other cultures. "Each teller and author places his or her own biases, cultural orientations, and interests in the tale" (16). In other words, stories of enchantment convey the author's values, beliefs, and social practices collectively known as ideologies (Stephens 9). Asserting that ideology is unavoidable, Peter Hollindale describes how writers intentionally promote or advocate social, political, or moral beliefs in a story (27), or inadvertently perpetuate unexamined assumptions that usually reflect widely shared values (30). Further, Zhihui Fang, Danling Fu, and Linda Lamme assert that educators need to rethink how they use multicultural children's literature in the classroom. They recommend that all readers should approach "literature with a questioning and wondering stance" (273). Accordingly, it is important for educators to consider how they use children's literature in the classroom, since ideology is embedded in all literature. However, the ability to discern the accuracy and authenticity of a multicultural text is difficult for "outsiders" of a culture.

On one hand, multicultural education must be at the center of all teaching. "Staff must be multiculturally literate and capable of including and embracing families and communities to create an environment that is supportive of multiple perspectives, experiences, and democracy" (National Association for Multicultural Education). Hence, many educators rely on multicultural books, which are easily accessible and enjoyable, to foster multiculturalism. On the other hand, educators must carefully evaluate these books concerning their authenticity and accuracy of cultural representation. The purpose of this article is two-fold: first, to demonstrate one way to compare and contrast seven versions of the same fairy tale; and second, to recommend the most accurate and authentic versions in English of the Japanese fairy tale, Issunboshi.


In the book Japanese Mythology A to Z, Jeremy Roberts retells the fairy tale, Issunboshi, the one-inch tall human hero. A childless couple goes to the temple to pray for an offspring. Soon after, the gods give them a very small, one-inch tall boy, who they name Issunboshi, "Little One Inch." As a young man, Issunboshi travels to Kyoto, "the capital of ancient Japan and a holy city" (53). There he secures a job with a noble family and serves as the protector of their daughter. One day, Issunboshi accompanies the lord's daughter, who visits the temple to ask the gods for a spouse. While traveling, two giant oni, or ogres, attack them. Despite his smallness, Issunboshi conquers the two oni and they run off leaving behind a magical mallet. Using the mallet, which is similar to Aladdin's lamp, Issunboshi wishes to become a full-size man and the mallet "grants" his wish. Soon after, he marries the lord's daughter.


Although Japanese folktales, or otogi zoshi, may resemble European tales in many ways, these tales also depict "the culture of the place where people created the tale" (Okuhara 194). After studying nine versions of Issunboshi, seven common characteristics emerged which are specific to Japanese culture: a specific setting; love and acceptance; service to the emperor; family dependency; modesty; spiritual beauty; and the magic mallet motif. First, I will describe how these seven characteristics depict Japanese culture. Then, I will bring the reader's attention to these characteristic in selected Issunboshi versions. For a comparison overview of all nine Issunboshi versions discussed in this article, please see Table 1: Issunboshi Comparison Chart. Table 1 provides a synopsis in which readers can easily discern the most accurate versions by noting the shaded boxes that identify the characteristics that represent Japanese customs and beliefs.

Table 1: Issunbossi Comparison Chart

Title &
Main character

Author &
Year &

Specific vs. Ambiguous Setting

Acceptance vs. Rejection

Serve the Emperor vs. Self made

Dependent vs. Independent

Humble vs. Proud

Spiritual vs. Physical Beauty

Cultural Specific Symbol

Issun boshi, the Inchling




Out of Print

“Long, long ago, in certain village…”

Kiyomizu Temple

“They brought him up with loving care…”

“He wished to try his fortune there.”

Inchling:  bowl, chopstick, needle

Inchling asks for work, and demonstrates his ability by slewing a fly.

“…the princess came to love Inchling very much”.

Magic mallet



Goodman & Spices


In Print

“In the province of Suttsu…now Osaka…” (2) Kyoto (26)

Shrine at Ise (41)

“birth was joy” (6)

“loving patience” (9)

“I would like to serve in the house of a great lord.” (13)

Mother: food. Father: sword, bowl, chopstick (14)

“I have come to offer my services” (30)

Princess loved Issunbōshi above all others” (39)

Magic mallet (55)

Little Fingerling

Issun Boshi



In Print

“Once upon a time in old Japan…”


Kanzeon Temple

“He was indeed very tiny, but they were happy…”

“Now it is time for me to go into the world and make my own way.”

Mother: traveling costume

Father: Needle

Parents: bowl, chopsticks

First, he worked for a merchant then he met the wife of a nobleman

“…she had fallen in love with Issun Boshi

Lucky mallet

Little Inchkin




In Print

“Long ago in old Japan…”

“…they did not love him”

“I will go out into the wide world and make my fortune…”

Inchkin makes his own materials  for travel

“I am one of the best swordsmen…”

After Inchkin is tall, the princess falls in love with him.

Little One Inch Boy

Little One Inch Boy



In Print

“Once upon a time…” (22)

“Although they didn't want him to leave…” (22)

“I would like to serve the master of this house” (24)

Father: Needle

Mother: Bowl, Chopsticks (22)

“…Little Princess loved him best of all” (24)

Magic mallet

Little One Inch



Out of Print

“One day the woman went to the local shrine…”


“…his parents were delighted.”

“…old enough to leave home…to seek his fortune…”

Mother: suit

Father: sword, sword case

Parents: bowl, chopsticks

“Although I am small, I am brave and clever.”

“He and Michiko were never happier than when they were in each other's company.”

Magic hammer (64)

Little One-Inch

Little One-Inch



In Print

“One day they went to a shrine…” (60)

They “…raised him as their son” (60).

“I must go out into the world and make my fortune” (61).

Parents: needle, bowl, chopstick (61)

“… let me become one of your guards” (63).

“They soon became good friends…” (63)

Hammer (64)

The Inch-High Samurai




In Print

Naniwa :(4, 46),

Sumiyoshi Shrine (5), Gojo Bridge (21), Kiyomizu Temple (21, 33)

“all their love” (7)

“be a samurai of great renown” (8)

Father: bowl, chopsticks

Mother: needle, rice (13)

“I would like to be a samurai” (26).

“Inchy won the lady's heart” (30)

Magic mallet (41)

Tiny Finger

Tiny Finger



Out of Print

Small village in southern Japan (60)

Kyoto (67)

“Kenta and Mori loved him very much” (62)

“I wish to serve the Emperor” (63)

Parents: needle, bowl,  chopstick (63-4)

“… to learn to be as great a soldier as you.” (67)

“The princess grew to love her finger-high guard…” (67)

Mallet (68)

Specific vs. Ambiguous Setting

The identification of a specific setting is a characteristic of Japanese fairy tales which sets them apart from European fairy tales. In Japanese fairy tales "everything is unambiguous" (Okuhara 193), whereas in European fairy tales, everything is ambiguous and descriptions are general. European tales often begin "Once upon a time in a kingdom far, far away..." In contrast, Japanese fairy tales typically indicate the setting by city name or province, and explicitly identify places such as temples and bridges throughout the story. A detailed setting is an essential part Japanese fairy tales.

Acceptance vs. Rejection

Japanese parents often indulge their young children to the point of spoiling. "...[M]others traditionally treated their young children with an extraordinary degree of amai (ah-my), which can be translated as 'loving indulgence'" (De Mente, Japan's Cultural Code Words, 25). Children are indulged until about the age of seven or eight, at which time they "...assume serious responsibilities, and are subjected to strict discipline" (25). Moreover, parents pander to their children, especially the eldest son who someday will care for his aging parents (Bethel 110). In general, Japanese people believe it is necessary to provide unconditional love to their children.

Service to the Emperor vs. Being Self-Made

Historically, Japan has been an imperialist nation, and the people honored the Emperor as the endowed leader of the country. It was the duty of all citizens to serve him and prove unquestioning loyalty. "The Japanese saw the emperor as embodying in a near-mystical way the divine spirit of the Japanese race. Although not exactly an object of religious worship, he was venerated as an all-important symbol of national identity" ("The Decision..."). Further, "loyalty to the emperor was made a sacred duty and a patriotic obligation" ("Tenno"). Presently, the Emperor is a figurehead, much like the Queen of England. The Emperor is not a political ruler and he is no longer considered a god. Even though Japan is no longer an imperialist nation, there are traces of this ideology still embedded in the governmental structure. A Japanese person serves his country because that is what is best for the group.

Dependency vs. Independency

The Japanese encourage children to be dependent on family members by patiently attending to a child's every whim which in turn creates the necessary bond to ensure the continuity of the group. "This pampering is an important part of the upbringing because it makes them dependent on their parents and in the long run teaches them the importance of interdependence with other members of society based on mutual trust" (Shelley 33). Independent behavior such as making vocational decisions without consulting one's parents or mentors would challenge Japanese thought.

Modesty vs. Pride

In the Japanese culture, it is considered rude to brag or boast, even more so than in some Western cultures. "Japan is traditionally a group-orientated society in which no one individual wants to stand out. To do so shows great disrespect and dishonor" (Gritzner, Phillips and Desulniers 93). The Japanese believe that modesty contributes to harmony. Harmony, or wa in Japanese, "is a cardinal value of Japanese interpersonal relationships. Harmony between people is to them essential for living together. Harmony is regarded as being a major attribute of being Japanese" (Shelley 142). Harmony is achieved when people act in a cooperative manner and strive to avoid confrontational situations. Hence, a vital theme in Japanese culture is the "...effort to eliminate envy, prohibit individualism, an suppress talent" (De Mente, Behind the Japanese Bow, 5). Therefore, a person must forgo individual desires and success, and strive for a humble existence.

Spirituality vs. Physical Beauty

Unlike European fairy tales which emphasize the possession of physical beauty to win the heart of the prince, Japanese fairy tales show how spiritual beauty is the essential element. "In Japanese culture, physical beauty does not represent spiritual beauty, unlike in western culture. Japanese people believe that a man needs to love a woman's heart, not her appearance, and vice versa, and spiritual beauty brings physical beauty" (Okuhara 193). In Japanese fairy tales it is what is inside a person that counts.

Culturally Specific Symbol: The Magic Mallet Motif

Every fairy tale embodies literary motifs that distinguish it. "A motif is the smallest element in a tale having a power to persist in tradition. In order to have this power it must have something unusual and striking about it" (Thompson 415). Motifs consist of three categories: the characters, objects, and events. In Issunboshi, the magic mallet is a well-known cultural specific symbol, or object, that carries special meaning in a Japanese fairy tale. "In some legends, a mallet or hammer is considered a good luck omen and can grant wishes when struck on the ground" (Roberts 74). Since the mallet is a distinct symbol of the Issunboshi story, the absence of this motif would create a void. Simply put, imagine Cinderella without her fairy godmother, Jack without the magic beans, or Aladdin with out the lamp!

Notable Issunboshi Versions

Three Issunboshi versions (i.e., Goodman and Spicer; McCarthy; O'Donnell) accurately adhere to all seven characteristics of the Japanese cultural aspects described above. Two of these books, Issunbōshi and Inch-High Samurai, are still in print. The third story, "Tiny Finger", is also a good example of the Issunboshi tale; unfortunately, it is out of print and has limited availability. For more information about The Inch-High Samurai and "Tiny Finger", please refer to Table 1. Below I will describe Issunbōshi by highlighting the elements that represent Japanese culture.

Issunbōshi is a picture book written by Robert B. Goodman and Robert A. Spicer, and illustrated by George Suyeoka. The authors clearly identify the setting stating, "In the province of Settsu, in a village that is now Osaka, there once lived a couple who dreamed of a child of their own" (2). Moreover, the authors indicate specific places, such as temples, throughout the story.

The parents love the boy even though he was small. "The day of the birth was joy -- and astonishment!...With loving patience they waited for the boy to grow bigger. He did not" (6). Further, the neighboring children enjoy playing hide-and-seek with Issunbōshi. Hence, he is cherished by all.

It is clear that Issunbōshi wishes to show his reverence to the emperor by serving a great lord. "I will soon be sixteen. It is time for me to go out into the world. Give me permission to leave, father. I would like to serve in the house of a great lord" (13). As he bids his son good-bye, the father says, "Make your fortune in the world with honor to the Emperor and to us" (17). Since Issunbōshi first wants to serve the lord it can be understood that his fortune is a "personified power that unpredictably determines events and issues favorably or unfavorably" (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). Issunbōshi's fortune is his fate or destiny, rather than his financial gain or prosperity.

Even though Issunbōshi declares his service to the emperor, he still remains dependent on his parents for supplies essential for travel and self-defense. This notion is supported by the father's comment, " 'Come, Yaye, we must prepare our son for his journey'" (14). Hence, his parents give him a sewing needle to function as a sword, a soup bowl for a boat, a chopstick for an oar, and a bag full of food.

The character of Issunbōshi is modest and humble. Upon meeting the Prime Minister, Issunboshi announces, "Your Lordship! I am Issunbōshi! I have come to offer my services!" (30). The illustration shows Issunbōshi respectively kneeling and bowing deeply toward the Prime Minister thereby confirming Issunbōshi's reverence.

The importance of spiritual beauty is demonstrated by Princess Miyuki, who loves Issunbōshi even when he is small and before he saves her life. "The Princess preferred Issunbōshi above all others" (39). In turn, Issunbōshi adores Miyuki, but refrains from proclaiming his love, because of his miniature self.

After Issunbōshi heroically rescues the princess from the oni, or demons, Miyuki finds the magic mallet. "'Look, Issunbōshi! The monsters dropped their magic mallet! If we strike it,' said Miyuki, eagerly, 'we can have any wish our hearts desire!'" (55). Miyuki offers the wish to Issunbōshi and he wishes "to be a full-sized man" (56). Because of Issunbōshi's courage, the Prime Minister offers Issunbōshi's his daughter's hand in marriage.

Issunbōshi is a superb example of this Japanese tale as it exemplifies Japanese cultural practices and depicts Japanese thought. In order to bring the ideology to the surface, an educator would need to underscore explicitly how the specific elements portray Japanese culture. For example, the concept of dependency would need to be explained and compared to the Western ideology of independence. It is also important to help students understand the underlying reason for dependency: that is, dependency encourages group interdependence which in turn helps to maintain harmony in the group.

Other Commendable Issunboshi Versions

There are four Issunboshi versions (i.e., Hughes; Ishii; Nishimoto; Sakade) which demonstrate many, but not all, of the original story characteristics. Little Fingerling and Issun Boshi, the Inchling are both picture storybooks, and "Little One Inch Boy" and "Little One-Inch" are stories in anthologies of Japanese folk tales. Although these four versions do not render all of the story elements discussed in this article, they provide contrast for a textual analysis of several versions. Further, this variation of events and dialogue supports the notion that fairy tales evolve and change over time. Fairy tales were instituted by the oral tradition; therefore it stands to reason there will be a range of adaptations within a specific fairy tale. Juxtaposing several versions of the same fairy tale will illuminate the notion that over time storytellers alter and modify fairy tales based on their beliefs, values, experiences, and knowledge of culture of which the story represents.

One story, Little Fingerling, has a slightly different event that explains how Issun Boshi happens to serve a nobleman. When Issun Boshi desires to go into the world to make his own way, he meets a merchant who realizes that Issun Boshi's small stature is an attribute for painting designs on hair combs. While working at the stall owner's table, the wife of a nobleman notices Issun Boshi and is so fascinated by him, she asks him to join their household. Rather than serving as a guard for the nobleman's daughter, the family treats Issun Boshi as a family member and he learns to read, write, fight, and dance. Plum Blossom, the nobleman's daughter falls in love with Issun Boshi and decides to visit the temple to ask for help because of her anguish. Since the other family members are unavailable to accompany Plum Blossom, Issun Boshi volunteers. On the way to the temple of Kanzeon, two "evil spirits" attack them; however, Issun Boshi bravely saves the girl. The demons abandon their lucky mallet, thereby affording Plum Blossom the opportunity to make a wish. She wishes for Issun Boshi to become a full-sized man.

Although this story does not match all characteristics, it posesses many of them. The parents accept and love Issun Boshi despite his tiny stature. He is dependent upon his parents, who provide traveling necessities. Although he does not set out to serve a great lord or the emperor, he reveals a sense of obligation to his parents. At the age of fifteen, he tells his "Honoured [sic] father, honoured [sic] have fed me, clothed me, taught me all you know. Now it is time for me to go into the world and make my own way" (N. pag.). At the end of the story, Issun Boshi cares for his elderly parents. Since his parents lovingly cared for him as a child, one can perceive that Issun Boshi left home to find a way to support his aging parents as is the duty of the eldest son.

When East Meets West

Little Inchkin, written and illustrated by Fiona French, is the only Issunboshi version that does not adhere to any of the cultural story elements. To begin, the setting is vague, "Long ago in old Japan, Hana lived with her husband Tanjo in a small house near a temple" (N. pag.). Later in the story, Inchkin travels to Prince Sanjo's land. Although this denotes a particular kingdom, the use of prince is misleading. Japan is well-known for emperors and prime ministers, not princes, which is a Western title.

The parents did not love the little boy. "'But he is so small!' she cried. 'All the neighbours [sic] will make fun of me.' She and Tanjo named the tiny boy Inchkin. They took great care of him, but they did not love him" (N. pag.). This aspect of the story was disconcerting to my Japanese friends and colleagues who assured me that Japanese parents love and cherish their children no matter how small.

When Inchkin becomes a young man, he tells his mother, "I will go out into the wide world to make my fortune, and maybe I will find a way to grow as tall as other people" (N. pag.). In Western culture, to make one's fortune is to become wealthy. Although Little Inchkin is an Eastern tale, there are no other distinguishing attributes that clarify what Inchkin means by fortune.

When he prepares for his trip, the boy shows independence. "Making a sharp sword out of a needle and millet straw, and a strong suit of armour [sic] out of beetles' wings, Inchkin practiced fighting crickets and bumblebees, and even a big mouse. He became a skilled swordsman" (N. pag.). Inchkin's display of independence is in direct contrast to the Japanese value of dependence on the group.

When Inchkin encounters Prince Sanjo, he boasts about his ability. He proudly declares, "I am one of the best swordsmen in Prince Sanjo's land" (N. pag.). Although Inchkin may be a skillful swordsman and even the best, it is improper for him to verbalize this statement.

The princess does not love Inchkin until he grows to full size. "When the princess saw the handsome man, her heart filled with joy" (N. pag.). French's version reinforces the ideology of Western culture which reveres physical beauty over spiritual beauty.

Lastly, Inchkin instantly becomes taller after defeating the "evil spirits". The mallet is omitted completely. "Inchkin felt himself grow taller and taller. The Lord Buddha was rewarding him for his bravery by granting his dearest wish" (N. pag.). French's exclusion of the mallet equates to the omission of the fairy godmother in Cinderella. The absence of the mallet changes the story dramatically, and misrepresents the Japanese fairy tale upon which it is supposedly based.

Overall, Little Inchkin resembles the fairy tale Issunboshi in that there are similar events: the parents want a child, the gods give them a tiny boy, the boy wants to make it on his own, the boy meets a nobleman, the boy defends the nobleman's daughter from demons, and the boy marries the girl. Nevertheless, these events alone do not portray cultural traits and nuances that make the story feel authentically Japanese. The events in and of themselves do not convey the Japanese way of life, but rather a Western ideology: the boy independently prepares for the trip; the boy is self-assured about his abilities when pursuing employment with Prince Sanjo; the girl loves him based on his physical beauty. In reality, the Japanese culture is non-existent in this story.


The comparison of nine English-language fairy tale versions of Issunboshi demonstrates how the dialogue, descriptions, and events shape the ideology embedded in a fairy tale. On one hand, this discrepancy supports the argument that authors must be careful researchers. "Authors of multicultural literature act as cultural messengers, but they may unconsciously impose their perspectives on the cultures they are try to re-create" (Cai 172). Although the responsibility of authenticity is placed on the author, this premise positions readers as passive consumers of texts. On the other hand, inaccurate literature creates the opportunity for readers to develop critical literacy skills: "Compare texts of similar generic structure to investigate how texts position the reader to accept particular ideologies (for example, traditional and modern fairy tales)" (Kempe 43). By comparing Issunboshi versions, educators can show how the same story imbues varying cultural beliefs.

Uncovering Ideology

It is often difficult to detect ideology in texts. This is especially true when the ideology of the text is the same as that of the reader. Further, the concept of ideology is usually very abstract, especially for novice readers. However, that does not mean children cannot understand that ideology is portrayed in literature and texts. With guidance, the concept of ideology may be introduced to students in upper elementary grades, and should be introduced to students in higher grades. Although it may be ideal only to share accurate folktales with students, if teachers want to help students understand another group's culture, it may be just as important to teach students how texts imbue ideology.

Educators can adapt the findings of this study to create lessons that teach students how to uncover ideology in texts. For example, a middle school teacher could conduct a comparative analysis using three or four Issunboshi versions, including Little Inchkin. Ideally, this lesson could be incorporated in a Japanese unit of study in which students are learning about Japanese culture, further bringing attention to specific Japanese values and beliefs, such as dependency and modesty. Secondary resources, such as the books by Boyé Lafayette De Mente and Rex Shelley, provide clear explanations about Japanese culture in relation to American culture. Although the books are written for the adult reader, the information can be adapted to the needs of adolescent readers. These types of exercises will help students learn about another culture, learn that cultures have different ideologies, and learn and understand the significance of cultural differences in global affairs. Albeit, the specifics of a lesson about ideology will need to be customized for the age level and background experiences of the students, it is imperative to teach children and young adults how to question ideologies and to become independent critical thinkers and readers.

Difficulty Choosing Accurate Books

This study highlights the difficulty in choosing accurate books about a culture when a reader is not familiar with that culture. It is paradoxical when modern educators, who sincerely wish to enlighten their students with multicultural aspects in the curriculum, unknowingly choose culturally inaccurate texts that do not have the most basic perimeters and information. It is not reasonable to assume that educators will know the details of a different culture. I lived in Japan for six months when I shared French's Little Inchkin with a colleague. I really liked the illustrations and I enjoyed the literary aspects of the text, but due to my naiveté about Japanese culture, I did not discern the Western ideology embedded in the text until it was brought to my attention. I am grateful to my friend's wisdom and patience. As an insider, she guided me in recognizing and understanding the cultural ideology imbued in the text.

In conclusion, I agree with Fang (1999) that readers should question literature: "In order to succeed in redeeming literacy and multicultural education in the literature-based classroom, it is imperative that we begin to foster a literature community of thoughtful, analytical, and critical readers and writers" (274). Teachers, scholars, and authors should always carefully research the folk literature about what they teach and write. A published book is not a promise that the information is authentic or accurate. It is the right of the "culture of literature" to have the freedom of the press. Since educators cannot, and should not, assume all published books are authentic and accurate, they must first develop the habit of questioning all texts, then demonstrate and facilitate textual analysis strategies. Further, they should elicit the help of insiders to check the content for accuracy. Lastly, educators should teach students critical literacy skills and to encourage them to question a text's accuracy and authenticity, thereby learning how culture is embedded in literature. We read multicultural books to learn about different cultures, but if the book is inaccurate or not authentic, then we do not gain necessary insights, nor does the book accomplish what it has set out to do.

Works Cited

Bethel, Diana Lynn. "Life on Obasuteyama, or, inside a Japanese Institution for the Elderly." Japanese Patterns of Behavior. Ed. Takie Sugiyama Lebra. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1976. 109-34.

Cai, Mingshui. "Can We Fly across Cultural Gaps on the Wings of Imagination? Ethnicity, Experience, and Cultural Authenticity." Stories Matter: The Complexity of Cultural Authenticity in Children's Literature. Eds. Dana L. Fox and Kathy Gnagey Short. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2003. 167-81.

De Mente, Boye. Behind the Japanese Bow. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1993.

—. Japan's Cultural Code Words: 233 Key Terms That Explain the Attitudes and Behavior of the Japanese. Boston: Tuttle Publishers, 2004.

"The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb". 2006. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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Jane E. Kelley

Volume 10, Issue 2 The Looking Glass 2 April, 2006

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"Analyzing Ideology in a Japanese Fairy Tale"
© Jane E. Kelley, 2006.
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