“The Tale of the Wood-Cutter” (Taketori Monogatari) is a very famous Japanese fairy tale from the Heian era. It tells the story of an elderly and childless couple, who prayed the gods for a child, and one day found a baby-girl inside a bamboo tree. They named her Kaguya (“Moon-Glow”) and she grew up to be a beautiful girl. She had many suitors, who she sent to preform impossible tasks in order to win her hand in marriage.
Rummers of her beauty spread across the country and reached the emperor himself, who went to see her and instantly fell in love with her. She returned his feelings, but was very sad. When her parents asked her for the reason, she answered that she’s actually the princess of the moon kingdom who was sent to earth due to a punishment, and now that it’s over, she must leave them all and return to the moon. When an entourage from the moon came with a carriage to escort her on her journey, the emperor sent his soldiers to kill them. They were unable to do so, and so Kaguya Hime stepped into the carriage that flew her back to the moon. My shortened version of this story hardly does it any justice, so I highly recommend reading the full version here.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are many elements in this story that appear in Sailor Moon. First, there is the kingdom on the moon who has a princess. The princess is sent to Earth, adopted and raised by a human couple. In some versions of the story, Kaguya Hime was not sent to Earth because of a punishment, but to ensure her safety, while a celestial war was conducted on the moon. In the anime, princess Serenity was sent to Earth to be reborn as a human after she died in the war on the moon.
Next we have the moon princess and a human from the royal family falling in love with each other but get separated, while our Sailor Moon princess eventually gets to stay on Earth with her love. Another element I believe is taken from this story is the immortality of the moon people, since they could not be killed by the emperor’s soldiers.
There’s no doubt that Takeuchi-sensei came up with story of Sailor Moon by herself, but with such resemblance to this fairy tale, I’m pretty sure that “The Tale of the Wood-Cutter” was a source of inspiration to her. More ever, there are sometimes references to the fairy tale in Sailor Moon itself: In vol.11 of the manga, there’s a villain believed to be Princess Kaguya by a scientist who’s obssesed with the story (the plot of the second anime movie is based on this volume). In episode 10 of the live-action series, Zoicite composes his “Princess Requiem” that erases all the references to princesses – among them Kaguya Hime – when played. This fairy tale has also a reference in all the “Kaguya shima” (Island of Kaguya) story-arc of the musicals.