Liars, Cheats and …Winners? (嘘も方便)

Today I was reminded that in many folklore stories, liars are often winners. In these stories, morality takes a back seat to cunning and artifice. The main character’s problems are solved by misleading other characters.

These kinds of stories are common enough in European tales such as Puss in Boots, Hansel and Gretel, and elaborated below, the less familiar Grimm’s story of the Three Spinners (or Three Spinsters).

The Three Spinners is the story of an extremely lazy young girl who, by various coincidences, ends up being promised to marry the prince if she can spin a room full of flax into thread in one day. Three old spinners come to her aid, but they are deformed in various ways (an extremely large foot from pedaling, an overhanging lip from licking thread, etc..).

The girl takes full credit for the spinners’ work and marries the prince, but as part of the bargain she must invite the spinners to the wedding. The prince asks why the spinners are so hideous, and when he is informed it is because they have been spinning flax their entire lives, he forbids his wife from ever spinning flax again. Her laziness and immorality results in a promotion from peasant to princess. Huzzah!

In Japan, there are at least three kinds of stories where lying saves the day. One is the kind of joke story similar to the above tale in which the hero has nearly no good qualities, but is rewarded anyways.

Horafuki – Trumpeting like Trump?

Another popular story is a genre called horafuki (ほら吹き). The word fuki means “to blow” and the word hora means “conch shell.”

You’ve likely already guessed, but the idea originated in the huge (please only ever read that word in the Donald’s voice) sound that comes out of the comparatively small shell. Horafuki stories are about a character telling an amusing (and always unbelievable) exaggeration or outright fiction.

The final category is for master monks (oshō 和尚) and their apprentices (kozō 小僧). These stories are doubly amusing as the characters’ holy statuses heighten the absurdity of their character flaws.

As these stories were likely intended to be entertainment, and not great epics, they tend to be short with a punch at the end (much like rakugo, if you are familiar with that storytelling tradition).

Please enjoy the six stories below!

Your hither-to failure to speak in superlatives and absurd fixation with integrity are about to be remedied.

Type 1 (Liars can be winners 悪知恵)

(1) Netarō who slept for 3 years (3年寝太郎)

(2) Medicine to make one smart (利口になる薬)

Type 2 (horafuki ほらふき)

(1) Horafuki Challenge (ほらくらべ)

(2) Horafuki Chōkichi (ほらふき長吉)

Type 3 (holy masters and their apprentices 和尚と小僧)

(1) Poison mizuame candy (水飴の毒)

(2) Sweet red beans (和尚さんのお代わり)

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