Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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The Strangeness of Kinder
Japan’s current birthrate crisis may not be a new thing, if we are to believe the evidence of its folktales.

Japanese folktales generally begin with an old couple living childlessly in the middle of the countryside. One day, the old man goes out and discovers a mysterious child, possibly in a peach or concealed within a bamboo stalk. Even if no child comes to light there he is bound to find one down a well, under a stone or floating on a leaf. It’s a rare day in the world of Japanese folktales when old men don’t return home from their labour with two or three miraculous infants in tow. What can this represent but a dream against childlessness – or at any rate against those children who go to Kyoto to work as salarymen at court, leaving their rustic parents to fend for themselves?

Ah, but who needs real children when you can have a peach boy or a moon girl?

There are of course European stories of children being found and brought up by woodcutters and the like, or even made out of sweetmeats, but they don’t seem quite so common. And my impression is that it’s usually an old man or an old woman living alone who do the finding, rather than the loving but impecunious couple of Japanese tradition. (By the way, married couple = “fuufu” - 夫婦 - in Japanese, a word I particularly like.)

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