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Why is のこと used in the sentence below?

Or more specifically, what is the difference between V-ときです and V-ときのことです?

むかし、むかし、桶屋で働く若者が桶にする竹を切っていた時のことです。

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桶にする竹を切っていた時

Would refer to the time he cut the bamboo.

桶にする竹を切っていた時のこと

Refers to the things (こと) that happened during the time he cut the bamboo.

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  • V-ときです: It happened when he was sawing a bamboo trunk.
  • V-ときのことです: It was the event that happened when he was sawing a bamboo trunk.

The former one pays attention to the time, while the latter one pays attention to the event.

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This is going to help a lot in answering your question: What is the こと in sentences such as あなたのことが好きだ?.

The selected answer explains how こと or 事【こと】 can be used in a few significantly different ways:

  • to encompass the things around an object/concept (i.e. "about"), like your sentence does --

    時のこと (the event... / the thing(s) that happened when...)

  • to simply mean "thing"

  • to add a layer of indirectness

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