The Little Princess Who Loved Insects: A Twelfth-Century Tale from Japan

Mar.7,2002. M.Sekine

A collection of short stories, the "Tsutsumi-chunagon Monogatari" was written in Japan in the twelfth century. "The Little Princess Who Loved Insects" or "The Lady Who Loved Insects" (The original Japanese title is the "Mushi Meduru Hime-gimi") is by far the best short tale in this anthology. The heroine of this fairy tale is a young beauty. She was a daughter of an aristocratic family and was called the "princess who loved insects." She loved insects, worms, and especially caterpillars. She put creeping insects into the palm of her hand, and with joy she saw hairy caterpillars crawling around. She commanded some boys to capture various insects and asked them the name of the insects. The insect that unknown was a new species. Then, the princess named it for the first time.
Needless to say, people in general evaluate both flowers and butterflies highly. They only accept the common idea that flowers and butterflies are worth admiring, without thinking too much about it themselves.
The heroine's way of thinking was as follows: You should look at things carefully without any preconceptions and with an impartial eye. You should carefully observe the growth of insects and their metamorphoses. That was her main point.
But, her mother and her lady's maids thought that a young lady should not touch yucky insects for fear of not being loved by a gentleman. On the other hand, the little princess was upset and scolded her maids when they were be-littled insects.
Before long, her mother told her that she was no longer a child, so she needed to make up just like most other young girls and quit playing around with hairy caterpillars. Mother said, "If you do such thing, you will damage your reputation." Mother gave an advice to her pretty daughter.
However, the little princess didn't like plucking her eyebrows and didn't like pencil her eyebrows. And she disliked dyeing her teeth black, as was the custom for Japanese ladies at that time. The princess loved things as they were. She thought that it was good to be natural. So, she disliked makeup and things like that. She said to her mother, "There is a purpose in pursuing the origins of something in order to gain result. Caterpillars grow up into butterflies. The silk is made by silkworms. If silkworms come out of cocoons and become imagoes, the silk yarn is not able to take it." The princess showed some silkworms and cocoons that had grown into imagoes to her mother. She was both an intelligent and a very wise young lady.
One day, a certain mischievous lad made a bag with a fake snake in it to surprise her. He wanted to frighten the little princess with it. The lady's maids gave a scream and fled. Even the princess was afraid of the snake. She saw the fake snake and every limb of her shook instantly. She was both a childlike and a very lovely young lady.
How did the story come about? Umanosuke, a young man, was interested in the princess. He couldn't mention such a thing. He thought she had a lovely mouth, but he couldn't say that presence of his friend. Actually, Umanosuke and his friend went out looking for girls. Though she was indifferent to her own appearance, it was a case of love at first sight for him when he cast his eyes her for the first time without her knowing it. At that time, she was devoting herself to collecting some caterpillars. When she noticed that Umanosuke and his friend peeping at her, she got upset and retreated into her room, picking up the caterpillars and putting them inside her sleeves of kimono quickly. She did so in a lively way. I myself was really impressed with that. I think that she was the most attractive lady of the Heian period in Japan.
Meanwhile, "The Girl Who Loved Caterpillars", an adaptation of the "Mushi Meduru Hime-gimi" is in print. Unfortunately, several illustrations in this book are misleading and grossly inaccurate. I would expect a greater amount of research into the customs of the Heian period in Japan. But, that still doesn't detract from a wonderful story.