Trying to relay Japanese folk tales / legends to someone is rather hard when they've never encountered them before. I'm currently reading "Myths & Legends of Japan" by F. Hadland Davis (Forgotten Books), and it's got a barrel-full of weird tales. Take the example of the recent story I'm working on, which is called "The Bronze Buddha of Kamakura & The Whale".
It's about a whale who wants to know whether he is bigger than this acclaimed 'giant' bronze buddha statue that is apparently fifty feet high. He becomes enraged with jealousy anytime he hears rumours and praises about this 'giant' statue. Eventually he becomes so angry that blows a paddy in the sea. Left all alone with only the company of a 'kindly' shark (exact phrasing from the tale) he explains his insecurity woes to him. The shark agrees to go off and discover just how big this bronze statue really is.
However, just as the shark nears the shore he realizes he can't cross onto land, but with luck he meets a rat running along a junk. The shark charms the rat (not sure how) to see the Buddha and report back to him how big it is. The rat agrees and scampers off to the temple, only to be shocked in awe at how massive the statue really is. He works out that if he counts his paces he can figure out how big it is. After doing this he returns to the shark who reports back to the whale of the buddha's exact dimensions.
After hearing the Buddha's 'exact dimensions', the whale still can't believe how big the buddha is and decides to 'put on magic boots' to walk on land. Under the cover of darkness he walks to the temple and knocks on the door to which he hears ' a voice that rang like the sound of a great bell', "Come in!" The whale replies that it cannot, because of the small doors and asks if the Buddha could come out. Unbelievably, the Buddha steps outside to be greeted by the whale's large presence and the whale shares its insecurities with him.
While the two chat, the head priest of the temple has half sleepily gone to check the Buddha statue, only to find it gone. Hearing voices he goes to investigate the noises, only to be met by two massive figures...the giant buddha statue talking to a whale wearing boots. The pair explain the whale's problem, and the priest decides that best way to resolve it is to measure the two by using his rosary. They finally discover that the whale is bigger than the Buddha just by two inches, in which he happily returns to the sea more vain than ever.
However, the way the story is phrased towards the end is particularly weird. It goes on to say... "Dealers in dry goods and dealers in wood and iron agreed from that day to this to differ as to what was a foot – an the difference was a matter of two inches."
I sure know how to pick them, don't I?