Felicity Drake’s story “Kozuna, the Ogre’s Child” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 3 January 2020.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit how personal this story is. It’s woven together from my own experiences, people I’ve met, places I’ve been, and stories I’ve read.
“Kozuna, the Ogre’s Child” is the name of a real Japanese folktale. (Grandmother’s version of the story is fairly similar to those you’ll find in collections of Japanese folklore.) The first time I heard it, I felt awful for poor Kozuna, the half-ogre boy. It wasn’t his fault that he had ogre blood, and the story gave him no chance for redemption or a happy ending.
The setting is inspired by Gokayama: a UNESCO world heritage site in Toyama Prefecture, and a unique, beautiful place with a thriving tourist trade. (And yes, the tofu really is life-changingly delicious!) For the setting of the story, I imagined a shadow twin of the real Gokayama, a neighboring village without the UNESCO stamp of approval and the tourist income it brings.
The picture scroll that Hitomi thinks about, the one with ogres banqueting on human flesh and blood, is Shuten dōji emaki. The version I had in mind can be viewed online, thanks to the National Diet Library’s digital collection.
If the folklore of the mountains of Japan captures your imagination, I would strongly recommend Yanagita Kunio’s The Legends of Tono (translated by Ronald A. Morse). It is a classic of folklore studies and a gateway into another world.
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