reprinted with permission from KYOTO JOURNAL
written by Christopher Caldwell
Tales from Japan, by Jonatha and Harold
Wright (SoundSpace Inc.; CD, 71 minutes; $14). Ichi,
Ni, San, Shi... Go! 500 Rivers and Other Tales from Japan,
by Jonatha and Harold Wright (SoundSpace Inc.; CD,
56 minutes; $14)
"Long ago and far away, somewhere in Japan..' — spoken
in Japanese — is how Jonatha and Harold Wright begin their
folktales. When not traveling and collecting source material
in Japan, the Wrights are professional storytellers and teachers
based in Yellow Springs, Ohio, who frequently perform from their
English-language repertoire "Two Thousand Years of Tales
Now some of their favorite tales have been recorded and are available
on two CDs. One of the neat things about the Wrights' storytelling
technique is that they effortlessly blend Japanese terms and
onomatopoeic sound effects into the fabric of their traditional
tales, and not once does it alienate or seem like scholarly affectation.
Each tale begins on a cultural note that may be unfamiliar to
most, from language to unconventional behavior of stock characters
or unfamiliar social systems of the generally rural Japanese
setting. But the way a listener can become so fully engaged within
seconds is a testament to the power of these tales and the skill
of the storytellers.
For listeners having previously encountered traditional Japanese
stories, perhaps through the writings of Lafcadio Hearn or other
folk collections, there is a pleasant mix of familiar material,
such as "Crane Maiden" and "Snow Woman" as
well as formerly uncollected material, notably "500 Rivers" which
the Wrights learned from Fujita Hiroko, a fellow storyteller
and folklorist from Japan. For biographical and historical purposes,
more information about how the Wrights encountered these tales
would be intriguing. Perhaps a companion disc will follow, about
how these folk tales were found.
There is entertainment for all ages here. Children and adults
alike will enjoy the magical elements and suspense, while adults
especially will appreciate the wry commentary on married relationships
and the many human foibles that transcend cultural divisions.
These folktales do exactly what they should do: namely, bear
repeated listening throughout the life of the audience.
There is a homemade simplicity to the presentation of these CDs,
from the tasteful but budget-conscious packaging to the warm
spontaneity of the recording. One can tell that the Wrights have told these tales many times,
but are open to the amorphous possibilities of the storyteller's
art. These releases by Jonatha and Harold Wright are wonderful
examples of how oral traditions can live and breathe in the audiobook
To hear Jonatha and Harold Wright tell stories is to encounter
storytellers who clearly respect their subject matter more than
the financial profits made from sharing it.