The Three Brothers and the Oni

There is a Japanese folktale called 'The Three Brothers and the Oni' that is similar to the German tale known as Hansel and Gretel. In the Japanese tale, a mother who couldn't afford to feed her three children takes them deep into the woods and asks them to wait while she goes to hunt for food. The three boys soon realised that she was not coming back. The two youngest boys began to cry, but the older boy (who was only seven years old) suggested they climb up a nearby tree to see if they could find anywhere that they could sleep for the night. In the distance they noticed a little house and so they set off and wandered through the woods towards it. By the time they arrived at the house it was already dark.

An old woman answered the door and the boys asked if they could stay. She told them that they had come across the house of an oni (demon) and that she was his slave. Apologising, she told them that if they stayed he will surely eat them once he returned. Now all three boys began to weep and plead with the woman and she agreed to hide them in the cellar. Soon enough the oni arrived home and sniffed with his hideous nostrils and roared with his terrifying mouth, declaring that he could smell humans. As would be expected, the oni thought a supper of children would be delightful. The clever old woman quickly tells him that three boys had visited earlier but they'd recently left and that if he was quick, he might find them. 
 
Totoya Hokkei - ca. 1830 (detail).
 
The oni had magical boots that let him run at great speed so he quickly put them on and headed off to find the boys. The woman took the boys from the cellar and told them to quickly go in the opposite direction from where the oni had headed. As it was so dark, they soon got lost and they managed to walk in a circle until they found the oni asleep on the side of the road. The oldest brother carefully took off the oni's magical boots and put them on. With a brother under each arm, he ran home to his mother's house safely away from the oni. And with the help of the magical boots, they were all able to live a long and happy life.

'Shining Forest, Japan' - Morozumi Osamu, 2005.

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