Make your own free website on

World Folktales

Asia - Japanese

Home | Table of Contents | Eastern Europe - Russian | Eastern Europe - Armenian | Eastern Europe - Jewish | Eastern Europe - Jewish | Europe - English | Europe - Spanish | Africa - West African | Africa - Malian | Africa - unspecified | Asia - Chinese | Asia - Japanese | Asia - Korean | Asia - Indian | Asia - Indian | Asia - Indonesian | Middle East - unspecified | North America - African American | North America - Hispanic | North America - Native American | North America - Native American | North America - Native American | North America - Regional | Central/South America - Cuban | Central/South America - Caribbean | Central/South America - Peruvian | Reflections


Asia – Japanese


Kimmel, Eric A. 2002. Three Samurai cats: A story from Japan. Illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. New York: Holiday House.


Rating: ♥♥♥♥ (out of ♥♥♥♥♥). (Picture taken from


Summary:  A Daimyo, a powerful Japanese lord, tries to get rid of a pesky rat who is taking over his castle. The rat defeats two young, strong Samurai cats, but he is finally defeated by an old, decrepit Samurai cat that uses wisdom rather than force.


Type:  beast tale


Characters: The characters are stereotypes – they do not have any depth. The rat is one of the most memorable characters, with his evil cunning and greed. Gerstein has depicted the rat with cartoon-like, exaggerated humor.  A reviewer in Booklist writes that the” buffoonish, wildly wicked ‘barbarous rat’… is more comic foil than villain” (Booklist, 2002). The other memorable character is the old, broken down cat, who is a patient Roshi (Zen master).


Setting: One learns from the title that the story takes place in Japan, and the reader is introduced to Japanese words and costumes.  The opening sentence, “There was once a daimyo…” implies that the story took place long ago. Readers learn from the author’s note that a Daimyo is a feudal lord and that the Samurai were “the knights of medieval Japan” (unpaged).


Plot:   This is a unique twist on the good versus evil plot, where the “good” is different from what readers might expect. The plot features the usual three events.  The evil rat is silly enough to make children giggle.


Theme:  The main theme is that one can best defeat enemies by using patience, “stillness,” and wisdom rather than force. In his notes, Kimmel writes that this is a Zen tale similar to the ones Zen masters used “…to surprise their disciples out of conventional patterns of thinking” (unpaged).


Rating Considerations: Generally, I enjoyed this well-written tale with strong dialogue. I also found myself laughing at Gerstein’s humorous illustrations, especially when the bold rat is being a bully. However, at the end of the story, Kimmel recapitulates the main message rather than allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. I would have preferred a more subtle moral.


Illustrations:  Rats are not my favorite, and I started to skip this story. However, the rat and all the other humor led to my enjoyment of this tale. Gerstein’s “pen and ink with oil paint” illustrations are comical and could easily be part of a comic book or graphic novel (unpaged). His illustrations contain plenty of action – we see one samurai doing fancy sword tricks and the rat being engulfed by a gigantic rice ball. This book may be best suited for one-on-one or small group sharing. Large groups may have difficulty seeing six double-page spreads that depict several small scenes