Japanese fairy tales. This is a collection of Japanese fairy tales translated by Yei Theodora Ozaki based on a version written in Japanese by Sadanami Sanjin. According to Ozaki, “These stories are not literal translations, and though the Japanese story and all quaint Japanese expressions have been faithfully preserved, they have been told more with the view to interest young readers of the West than the technical student of folk-lore.” Ozaki freely added to and changed the original stories for color and background.
JAPANESE FAIRY TALES
MY LORD BAG OF RICE
Long, long ago there lived, in Japan a brave warrior known to all as Tawara Toda, or “My Lord Bag of Rice.” His true name was Fujiwara Hidesato, and there is a very interesting story of how he came to change his name. One day sallied forth in search of adventures, for he had the nature of a warrior and could not bear to be idle. So he buckled on his two swords, took his huge bow, much taller than himself, in his hand, and slinging his quiver on his back started out. He had not gone far when he came to the bridge of Seta-No-Karashi spanning one end of the beautiful Lake Biwa. No sooner had he set foot on the bridge than he saw lying right across his path a huge serpent-dragon. Its body was so big that it looked like the trunk of a large pine tree and it took up the whole width of the bridge. One of its huge claws rested on the parapet of one side of the bridge, while its tail lay right against the other. The monster seemed to be asleep, and as it breathed, fire and smoke came out of its nostrils.
At first Hidesato could not help feeling alarmed at the sight of this horrible reptile lying in his path, for he must either turn back or walk right over its body. He was a brave man, however, and putting aside all fear went forward dauntlessly. Crunch, crunch! he stepped now on the dragon’s body, now between its coils, and without even one glance backward he went on his way. He had only gone a few steps when he heard some one calling him from behind.
On turning back, he was much surprised to see that the monster dragon had entirely disappeared and in its place was a strange looking man, who was bowing most ceremoniously to the ground. His red hair streamed over his shoulders and was surmounted by a crown in the shape of a dragon’s head, and his sea-green dress was patterned with shells. Hidesato knew at once that this was no ordinary mortal and he wondered much at the strange occurrence. Where had the dragon gone in such a short space of time? Or had it transformed itself into this man, and what did the whole thing mean? While these thoughts passed through his mind, he had come up to the man on the bridge and now addressed him, “Was it you that called me just now?”
“Yes, it was I,” answered the man: “I have an earnest request to make to you. Do you think you can grant it to me?”
“If it is in my power to do so I will,” answered Hidesato, “but first tell me who you are?” “I am the Dragon King of the Lake, and my home is in these waters just under this bridge.”
“And what is it you have to ask of me!” said Hidesato.
“I want you to kill my mortal enemy the centipede, who lives on the mountain beyond.” And the Dragon King then pointed to a high peak on the opposite shore of the lake.
“I have lived now for many years in this lake and I have a large family of children and grandchildren. For some time past, we have lived in terror, for a monster centipede has discovered our home, and night after night, it comes and carries off one of my family. I am powerless to save them.
If it goes on much longer like this, not only shall I lose all my children, but I myself must fall a victim to the monster. I am, therefore, very unhappy, and in my extremity I determined to ask the help of a human being. For many days with this intention, I have waited on the bridge in the shape of the horrible serpent-dragon that you saw, in the hope that some strong brave man would come along. But all who came this way, as soon as they saw me were terrified and ran away as fast as they could. You are the first man I have found able to look at me without fear, so I knew at once that you were a man of great courage. I beg you to have pity upon me. Will you not help me and kill my enemy the centipede?”
Hidesato felt very sorry for the Dragon King on hearing his story, and readily promised to do what he could to help him. The warrior asked where the centipede lived, so that he might attack the creature at once. The Dragon King replied that its home was on the mountain Mikami, but that as it came every night at a certain hour to the palace of the lake, it would be better to wait till then. So Hidesato was conducted to the palace of the Dragon King, under the bridge. Strange to say, as he followed his host downwards the waters parted to let them pass, and his clothes did not even feel damp as he passed through the flood. Never had Hidesato seen anything so beautiful as this palace built of white marble beneath the lake. He had often heard of the Sea King’s palace at the bottom of the sea, where all the servants and retainers were salt-water fishes, but here was a magnificent building in the heart of Lake Biwa. The dainty goldfishes, red carp, and silvery trout, waited upon the Dragon King and his guest.
Hidesato was astonished at the feast that was spread for him. The dishes were crystallized lotus leaves and flowers, and the chopsticks were of the rarest ebony. As soon as they sat down, the sliding doors opened and ten lovely goldfish dancers came out, and behind them followed ten red-carp musicians with the koto and the samisen. Thus, the hours flew by till midnight, and the beautiful music and dancing had banished all thoughts of the centipede. The Dragon King was about to pledge the warrior in a fresh cup of wine when the palace was suddenly shaken by a tramp, tramp! as if a mighty army had begun to march not far away.
Hidesato and his host both rose to their feet and rushed to the balcony, and the warrior saw on the opposite mountain two great balls of glowing fire coming nearer and nearer. The Dragon King stood by the warrior’s side trembling with fear.
“The centipede! The centipede! Those two balls of fire are its eyes. It is coming for its prey! Now is the time to kill it.”
Hidesato looked where his host pointed, and, in the dim light of the starlit evening, behind the two balls of fire he saw the long body of an enormous centipede winding round the mountains. And the light in its hundred feet glowed like so many distant lanterns moving slowly towards the shore.
Hidesato showed not the least sign of fear. He tried to calm the Dragon King.
“Don’t be afraid. I shall surely kill the centipede. Just bring me my bow and arrows.”
The Dragon King did as he was bid, and the warrior noticed that he had only three arrows left in his quiver. He took the bow, and fitting an arrow to the notch, took careful aim and let fly.
The arrow hit the centipede right in the middle of its head, but instead of penetrating, it glanced off harmless and fell to the ground.
Nothing daunted, Hidesato took another arrow, fitted it to the notch of the bow and let fly. Again, the arrow hit the mark, it struck the centipede right in the middle of its head, only to glance off and fall to the ground. The centipede was invulnerable to weapons!
When the Dragon King saw that even this brave warrior’s arrows were powerless to kill the centipede, he lost heart and began to tremble with fear.
The warrior saw that he had now only one arrow left in his quiver, and if this one failed he could not kill the centipede. He looked across the waters. The huge reptile had wound its horrid body seven times round the mountain and would soon come down to the lake.
Nearer and nearer gleamed fireballs of eyes, and the light of its hundred feet began to throw reflections in the still waters of the lake.
Then suddenly the warrior remembered that he had heard that human saliva was deadly to centipedes. But this was no ordinary centipede. This was so monstrous that even to think of such a creature made one creep with horror. Hidesato determined to try his last chance. So taking his last arrow and first putting the end of it in his mouth, he fitted the notch to his bow, took careful aim once more, and let fly.
This time the arrow again hit the centipede right in the middle of its head, but instead of glancing off harmlessly as before, it struck home to the creature’s brain. Then with a convulsive shudder, the serpentine body stopped moving, and the fiery light of its great eyes and hundred feet darkened to a dull glare like the sunset of a stormy day, and then went out in blackness. A great darkness now overspread the heavens, the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed, and the wind roared in fury, and it seemed as if the world were coming to an end. The Dragon King and his children and retainers all crouched in different parts of the palace, frightened to death, for the building was shaken to its foundation. At last, the dreadful night was over. Day dawned beautiful and clear. The centipede was gone from the mountain.
Then Hidesato called to the Dragon King to come out with him on the balcony, for the centipede was dead and he had nothing more to fear.
Then all the inhabitants of the palace came out with joy, and Hidesato pointed to the lake. There lay the body of the dead centipede floating on the water, which was dyed red with its blood.
The gratitude of the Dragon King knew no bounds. The whole family came and bowed down before the warrior, calling him their preserver and the bravest warrior in all Japan.
Another feast was prepared, more sumptuous than the first. All kinds of fish, prepared in every imaginable way, raw, stewed, boiled and roasted, served on coral trays and crystal dishes, were put before him, and the wine was the best that Hidesato had ever tasted in his life.
To add to the beauty of everything the sun shone brightly, the lake glittered like a liquid diamond, and the palace was a thousand times more beautiful by day than by night.
His host tried to persuade the warrior to stay a few days, but Hidesato insisted on going home, saying that he had now finished what he had come to do, and must return. The Dragon King and his family were all very sorry to have him leave so soon, but since he would go they begged him to accept a few small presents (so they said) in token of their gratitude to him for delivering them forever from their horrible enemy the centipede.
As the warrior stood in the porch taking leave, a train of fish was suddenly transformed into a retinue of men, all wearing ceremonial robes and dragon’s crowns on their heads to
show that they were servants of the great Dragon King. The presents that they carried were as follows:
First, a large bronze bell
Second, a bag of rice
Third, a roll of silk
Fourth, a cooking pot
Fifth, a bell
Hidesato did not want to accept all these presents, but as the Dragon King insisted, he could not well refuse.
The Dragon King himself accompanied the warrior as far as the bridge, and then took leave of him with many bows and good wishes, leaving the procession of servants to accompany Hidesato to his house with the presents.
The warrior’s household and servants had been very much concerned when they found that he did not return the night before, but they finally concluded that he had been kept by the violent storm and had taken shelter somewhere. When the servants on the watch for his return caught sight of him, they called to everyone that he was approaching.
The whole household turned out to meet him, wondering much what the retinue of men, bearing presents and banners, that followed him, could mean.
As soon as the Dragon King’s retainers had put down the presents they vanished, and Hidesato told all that had happened to him.
The presents which he had received from the grateful Dragon King were found to be of magic power.
The bell bonged a majestic bong. Hidesato immediately hung it in the temple so everyone could hear and appreciate the sound of the bell. When it was bonged it could be heard for miles, and the people knew it was time to gather for prayer, or for some important message or to gather for a feast of the village. The bong of the bell was joyous to the ears of all those who heard it and became the symbol of social gathering.
The single bag of rice was even more glorious. No matter how much was taken from it day after day the bag always remained full.
The roll of silk, too, never grew shorter, though time after time long pieces were cut off to make the warrior a new suit of clothes to go to Court in at the New Year.
The cooking pot was wonderful, too. No matter what was put into it, every meal was cooked deliciously with only a simple firing of the cooking coals. Hidesato enjoyed these gifts and shared them with his fellow villagers. Everyone was overjoyed with the gifts and knew that Hidesato’s good heart and bravery were the reason they had received the abundance. Still the gifts from the Dragon King did not portray their greatest temperament until the dawn of the next season.
Major storms prevailed over the land, followed by a major draught overcame the whole of Japan. The draught lasted for season after season, until in the whole of Japan people were losing their hope in life. Yet, in the Village of Hidesato, the people did not grow hungry, or did they want of clothing to keep warm. As the draught worsened the bell became the crying call of the hungry all over Japan.
Wherever people heard the sound of the bell they would come and dip their bowls into the cooking pot and never go away hungry. When they got cold, a piece of silk would be cut for the person in need. For Five long years, this was the case in Japan, until finally the rains came, and the seasons began to produce the food for all the people harmoniously as it once did.
For many years, Hidesato was honored and revered throughout the land, and to this day is known as a savior of the people in time of need, and called henceforth as My Lord, Bag of Rice.
Long, long ago in Japan there lived an old man and his wife. The old man was a good, kind-hearted, hard-working old fellow, but his wife was a regular crosspatch, who spoiled the happiness of her home by her scolding tongue. She was always grumbling about something from morning to night. The old man had for a long time ceased to take any notice of her crossness. He was out most of the day at work in the fields, and as he had no child, for his amusement when he came home, he kept a tame sparrow.
He loved the little bird just as much as if she had been his child.
When he came back at night after his hard day’s work in the open air it was his only pleasure to pet the sparrow, to talk to her and to teach her little tricks, which she learned very quickly. The old man would open her cage and let her fly about the room, and they would play together. Then when suppertime came, he always saved some tit-bits from his meal with which to feed his little bird.
Now one day the old man went out to chop wood in the forest, and the old woman stopped at home to wash clothes. The day before, she had made some starch, and now when she came to look for it, it was all gone; the bowl which she had filled full yesterday was quite empty.
While she was wondering who could have used or stolen the starch, down flew the pet sparrow, and bowing her little feathered head — a trick which she had been taught by her master — the pretty bird chirped and said, “It is I who have taken the starch. I thought it was some food put out for me in that basin, and I ate it all. If I have made a mistake, I beg you to forgive me! tweet, tweet, tweet!”
You see from this that the sparrow was a truthful bird, and the old woman ought to have been willing to forgive her at once when she asked her pardon so nicely. But not so. The old woman had never loved the sparrow, and had often quarreled with her husband for keeping what she called a dirty bird about the house, saying that it only made extra work for her. Now she was only too delighted to have some cause of complaint against the pet. She scolded and even cursed the poor little bird for her bad behavior, and not content with using these harsh, unfeeling words, in a fit of rage she seized the sparrow — who all this time had spread out her wings and bowed her head before the old woman, to show how sorry she was — and the old lady fetched the scissors and cut off the poor little bird’s tongue.
“I suppose you took my starch with that tongue! Now you may see what it is like to go without it! “And with these dreadful words she drove the bird away, not caring in the least what might happen to it and without the smallest pity for its suffering, so unkind was she!
The old woman, after she had driven the sparrow away, made some more rice-paste, grumbling all the time at the trouble, and after starching all her clothes, spread the things on boards to dry in the sun.
In the evening, the old man came home. As usual, on the way back he looked forward to the time when he should reach his gate and see his pet come flying and chirping to meet him, ruffling out her feathers to show her joy, and at last coming to rest on his shoulder.
But tonight the old man was very disappointed, for not even the shadow of his dear sparrow was to be seen.
He quickened his steps, hastily drew off his straw sandals, and stepped on to the veranda. Still no sparrow was to be seen. He now felt sure that his wife, in one of her cross tempers, had shut the sparrow up in its cage. So he called her and said anxiously, “Where is Suzume San (Miss Sparrow) today?”
The old woman pretended not to know at first, and answered, “Your sparrow? I am sure I don’t know. Now I come to think of it, I haven’t seen her all afternoon. I shouldn’t wonder if the un- grateful bird had flown away and left you after all your petting!”
But at last, when the old man gave her no peace, but asked her again and again, insisting that she must know what had happened to his pet, she confessed all. She told him crossly how the sparrow had eaten the rice-paste she had specially made for starching her clothes, and how when the sparrow had confessed to what she had done, in great anger she had taken her scissors and cut out her tongue, and how finally she had driven the bird away and forbidden her to return to the house again.
Then the old woman showed her husband the sparrow’s tongue, saying, “Here is the tongue I cut off! Horrid little bird, why did it eat all my starch?”
“How could you be so cruel? Oh! how could you so cruel?” was all that the old man could answer. “What a dreadful misfortune for my poor Suzume San to lose her tongue!” he said to himself. “She won’t be able to chirp any more, and surely the pain of the cutting of it out in that rough way must have made her ill! Is there nothing to be done?”
The old man shed many tears after his cross wife had gone to sleep.
While he wiped away the tears with the sleeve of his cotton robe, a bright thought comforted him: he would go and look for the sparrow in the morning. Having decided this he was able to go to sleep at last.
The next morning he rose early, as soon as ever the day broke, and snatching a hasty breakfast, started out over the hills and through the woods, stopping at every clump of bamboos to cry, “Where, oh where does my tongue-cut sparrow stay? Where, oh where, does my tongue-cut sparrow stay?”
He never stopped to rest for his noonday meal, and it was far on in the afternoon when he found himself near a large bamboo wood. Bamboo groves are the favorite haunts of sparrows, and there sure enough at the edge of the wood he saw his own dear sparrow waiting to welcome him. He could hardly believe his eyes for joy, and ran forward quickly to greet her. She bowed her little head and went through a number of the tricks her master had taught her, to show her pleasure at seeing her old friend again, and, wonderful to relate, she could talk as of old. The old man told her how sorry he was for all that had happened, and inquired after her tongue, wondering how she could speak so well without it. Then the sparrow opened her beak and showed him that a new tongue had grown in place of the old one, and begged him not to think any more about the past, for she was quite well now.
Then the old man knew that his sparrow was a fairy, and no common bird. It would be difficult to exaggerate the old man’s rejoicing now. He forgot all his troubles, he forgot even how tired he was, for he had found his lost sparrow, and instead of being ill and without a tongue as he had feared and expected to find her, she was well and happy and with a new tongue, and without a sign of the ill-treatment she had received from his wife. And above all she was a fairy.
The sparrow asked him to follow her, and flying before him, she led him to a beautiful house in the heart of the bamboo grove. The old man was utterly astonished when he entered the house to find what a beautiful place it was. It was built of the whitest wood, the soft cream-colored mats which took the place of carpets were the finest he had ever seen, and the cushions that the sparrow brought out for him to sit on were made of the finest silk and crape. Beautiful vases and lacquer boxes adorned the Tokonoma, that is,, the beautiful alcove where her precious objects were displayed in every room.
The sparrow led the old man to the place of honor, and then, taking her place at a humble distance, she thanked him with many polite bows for all the kindness he had shown her for many long years. Then the Lady Sparrow, as we will now call her, introduced all her family to the old man. This done, her daughters, robed in dainty crape gowns, brought in on beautiful old-fashioned trays a feast of all kinds of delicious foods, till the old man began to think he must be dreaming.
In the middle of the dinner some of the sparrow’s daughters performed a wonderful dance, called the “suzume-odori” or the “Sparrow’s dance,” to amuse the guest. Never had the old man enjoyed himself so much. The hours flew by too quickly in this lovely spot, with all these fairy sparrows to wait upon him and to feast him and to dance before him.
But the night came on and the darkness reminded him that he had a long way to go and must think about taking his leave and return home. He thanked his kind hostess for her splendid entertainment, and begged her for his sake to forget all she had suffered at the hands of his cross old wife. He told the Lady Sparrow that it was a great comfort and happiness to him to find her in such a beautiful home and to know that she wanted for nothing. It was his anxiety to know how she fared and what had really happened to her that had led him to seek her. Now he knew that all was well he could return home with a light heart. If ever she wanted him for anything, she had only to send for him and he would come at once.
The Lady Sparrow begged him to stay and rest several days and enjoy the change, but the old man said he must return to his old wife — who would probably be cross at his not coming home at the usual time — and to his work, and there-fore, much as he wished to do so, he could not accept her kind invitation. But now that he knew where the Lady Sparrow lived he would come to see her whenever he had the time.
When the Lady Sparrow saw that she could not persuade the old man to stay longer, she gave an order to some of her servants, and they at once brought in two boxes, one large, and the other small. These were placed before the old man, and the Lady Sparrow asked him to choose whichever he liked for a present, which she wished to give him.
The old man could not refuse this kind proposal, and he chose the smaller box, saying, “I am now too old and feeble to carry the big and heavy box. As you are so kind as to say that I may take whichever I like, I will choose the small one, which will be easier for me to carry.”
Then the sparrows all helped him put it on his back and went to the gate to see him off, bidding him good-by with many bows and entreating him to come again whenever he had the time. Thus the old man and his pet sparrow separated quite happily, the sparrow showing not the least ill-will for all the unkindness she had suffered at the hands of the old wife. Indeed, she only felt sorrow for the old man who had to put up with it all his life.
When the old man reached home he found his wife even crosser than usual, for it was late on in the night and she had been waiting up for him for a long time
“Where have you been all this time?” she asked in a big voice. “Why do you come back so late?”
The old man tried to pacify her by showing her the box of presents he had brought back with him, and then he told her of all that had happened to him, and how wonderfully he had been entertained at the sparrow’s house.
“Now let us see what is in the box,” said the old man, not giving her time to grumble again. “You must help me open it.” And they both sat down before the box and opened it.
To their utter astonishment, they found the box filled to the brim with gold and silver coins and many other precious things. The mats of their little cottage fairly glittered as they took out the things one by one and put them down and handled them over and over again. The old man was overjoyed at the sight of the riches that were now his. Beyond his brightest expectations was the sparrow’s gift, which would enable him to give up work and live in ease and comfort the rest of his days.
He said, “Thanks to my good little sparrow! Thanks to my good little sparrow!” many times.
But the old woman, after the first moments of surprise and satisfaction at the sight of the gold and silver were over, could not suppress the greed of her wicked nature. She now began to reproach the old man for not having brought home the big box of presents, for in the innocence of his heart he had told her how he had refused the large box of presents which the sparrows had offered him, preferring the smaller one because it was light and easy to carry home.
“You silly old man,” said she, “Why did you not bring the large box? Just think what we have lost. We might have had twice as much silver and gold as this. You are certainly an old fool!” she screamed, and then went to bed as angry as she could be.
The old man now wished that he had said nothing about the big box, but it was too late; the greedy old woman, not contented with the good luck which had so unexpectedly befallen them and which she so little deserved, made up her mind, if possible, to get more.
Early the next morning, she got up and made the old man describe the way to the sparrow’s house. When he saw what was in her mind he tried to keep her from going, but it was useless. She would not listen to one word he said. It is strange that the old woman did not feel ashamed of going to see the sparrow after the cruel way she had treated her in cutting off her tongue in a fit of rage. But her greed to get the big box made her forget everything else. It did not even enter her thoughts that the sparrows might be angry with her — as, indeed, they were — and might punish her for what she had done.
Ever since the Lady Sparrow had returned home in the sad plight in which they had first found her, weeping and bleeding from the mouth, her whole family and relations had done little else but speak of the cruelty of the old woman.
“How could she,” they asked each other, “inflict such a heavy punishment for such a trifling offense as that of eating some rice-paste by mistake?” They all loved the old man who was so kind and good and patient under all his troubles, but the old woman they hated, and they determined, if ever they had the chance, to punish her as she deserved.
They had not long to wait.
After walking for some hours the old woman had at last found the bamboo grove which she had made her husband carefully describe, and now she stood before it crying out, “Where is the tongue-cut sparrow’s house? Where is the tongue-cut sparrow’s house?”
At last, she saw the eaves of the house peeping out from amongst the bamboo foliage.
She hastened to the door and knocked loudly.
When the servants told the Lady Sparrow that her old mistress was at the door asking to see her, she was somewhat surprised at the unexpected visit, after all that had taken place, and she wondered not a little at the boldness of the old woman in venturing to come to the house. The Lady Sparrow, however, was a polite bird, and so she went out to greet the old woman, remembering that she had once been her mistress.
The old woman intended, however, to waste no time in words, she went right to the point, without the least shame, and said, “You need not trouble to entertain me as you did my old man. I have come myself to get the box which he so stupidly left behind. I shall soon take my leave if you will give me the big box — that is all I want!”
The Lady Sparrow at once consented, and told her servants to bring out the big box. The old woman eagerly seized it and hoisted it on her back, and without even stopping to thank the Lady Sparrow began to hurry homewards.
The box was so heavy that she could not walk fast, much less run, as she would have liked to do, so anxious was she to get home and see what was inside the box, but she had often to sit down and rest herself by the way.
While she was staggering along under the heavy load, her desire to open the box became too great to be resisted. She could wait no longer, for she supposed this big box to be full of gold and silver and precious jewels like the small one her husband had received.
At last, this greedy and selfish old woman put down the box by the wayside and opened it carefully, expecting to gloat her eyes on a mine of wealth. What she saw, however, so terrified her that she nearly lost her senses. As soon as she lifted the lid, a number of horrible and frightful looking demons bounced out of the box and surrounded her as if they intended to kill her. Not even in nightmares had she ever seen such horrible creatures as her much coveted box contained.
A demon with one huge eye right in the middle of its forehead came and glared at her, monsters with gaping mouths looked as if they would devour her, a huge snake coiled and hissed about her, and a big frog hopped and croaked towards her. The old woman froze in her tracks. She could not move as the huge frog began to creep toward her slowly and more slowly until he was face to face with her, looking into her eyes. The old woman could see all the demons circling around her, hissing and spitting, and calling her names.
Then the big frog let out a big croak, and began to speak. “The tongue-cut sparrow was our friend, old lady, and we cherished her for her goodness, obedience and the beauty of her song. In your hateful nature, you cut off not only her tongue, but of our sense of beauty to this world, since we, as ugly creatures, have very little on our own. We depended on the kind and unselfish nature of the tongue-cut sparrow, and your kind and gentle husband as well. Even though, through great effort she has been restored to new, and once again sings her song of beauty to our ugly ears, you must pay for your wicked nature, and now, in turn, your greed as well. You will become a never-ending patch of rice starch that will feed the sparrows for all eternity, so their song will never end, and we will always know the beauty that is not ours. ”
As the big frog ceased talking, the old woman began to feel her bones ache, and her body swoon. She cried for help, but her voice had turned to rice starch along with her whole body. There stood a mound of rice starch at the edge of the bamboo grove. Suddenly hundreds of swallows began to feed on the rice starch patch, never ending and always singing.
As for the kind old man, he knew that his old wife would come of no good with her behavior. Yet he waited for her patiently to arrive back from the tongue-cut sparrow’s bamboo grove. Suddenly, the tongue-cut sparrow flew into his hut and bowed with her wings spread.
“Kind master, I am sorry that your wife has taken longer than expected to return from my home. I flew in advance of her to tell you she is on the way.”
“Oh, kind sparrow, I hope she did not offend you too much. Please forgive me for your troubles with my old wife”, said the old man.
The tongue-cut sparrow looked up and smiled, saying, “You have done nothing wrong. Your kindness to me and my friends that hear my song, thank you regardless of the troubles that move in your way.”
Suddenly the door opened, and their stood the old woman, but with a very new countenance. She was hearty and good, she was loving and graceful and she beamed with such a beauty that the old man was taken back.
And of course, as the tongue-cut sparrow flew away, she failed to mention her one last gift to the old kind man, a mixture of all of the goodness of heart in the world’s creatures, both pretty and ugly, since all creatures are beautiful in their own way. And with a drop of potent from the Dragon King, and bringing coming forth a newly formed person, looking just like the old woman but with a new heart and countenance.
The new old woman immediately began to enchant the old man with tales of the sparrow’s bamboo grove and many more things of adventure. The old man and the old woman sat talking, completely in harmony with one another.
The tongue-cut sparrow flew away, singing, as the frogs croaked and all the animals danced for the joy of the day.
Long, long ago in the province of Tango there lived on the shore of Japan in the little fishing village of Mizu-No-Ye a young fisherman named Urashima Taro. His father had been a fisherman before him, and his skill had more than doubly descended to his son, for Urashima was the most skillful fisher in all that country side, and could catch more Bonito and Tai in a day than his comrades could in a week.
But in the little fishing village, more than for being a clever fisher of the sea was he known for his kind heart. In his whole life, he had never hurt anything, either great or small. And when a boy, his companions had always laughed at him, for he would never join with them in teasing animals, but always tried to keep them from this cruel sport.
One soft summer twilight he was going home at the end of a day’s fishing when he came upon a group of children. They were all screaming and talking at the tops of their voices, and seemed to be in a state of great excitement about something, and on his going up to them to see what was the matter he saw that they were tormenting a tortoise. First one boy pulled it this way, then another boy pulled it that way, while a third child beat it with a stick, and the fourth hammered its shell with a stone.
Now Urashima felt very sorry for the poor tortoise and made up his mind to rescue it. He spoke to the boys:
“Look here, boys, you are treating that poor tortoise so badly that it will soon die!”
The boys, who were all of an age when children seem to delight in being cruel to animals, took no notice of Urashima’s gentle reproof, but went on teasing it as before. One of the older boys answered, “Who cares whether it lives or dies? We do not. Here, boys, go on, go on!”
And they began to treat the poor tortoise more cruelly than ever. Urashima waited a moment, turning over in his mind what would be the best way to deal with the boys. He would try to persuade them to give the tortoise up to him, so he smiled at them and said, “I am sure you are all good, kind boys! Now won’t you give me the tortoise? I should like to have it so much!”
“No, we won’t give you the tortoise,” said one of the boys. “Why should we? We caught it ourselves.”
“What you say is true,” said Urashima, “but I do not ask you to give it to me for nothing.
I will give you some money for it — in other words, the Ojisan (Uncle) will buy it of you. Won’t that do for you, my boys?” He held up the money to them, strung on a piece of string through a hole in the center of each coin. “Look, boys, you can buy anything you like with this money. You can do much more with this money than you can with that poor tortoise. See what good boys you are to listen to me”
The boys were not bad boys at all, they were only mischievous, and as Urashima spoke they were won by his kind smile and gentle words and began “to be of his spirit,” as they say in Japan. Gradually they all came up to him, the ringleader of the little band holding out the tortoise to him.
“Very well, Ojisan, we will give you the tortoise if you will give us the money!”
And Urashima took the tortoise and gave the money to the boys, who, calling to each other, scampered away and were soon out of sight.
Then Urashima stroked the tortoise’s back, saying as he did so, “Oh, you poor thing! Poor thing! — there, there! You are safe now! They say that a stork lives for a thousand years, but the tortoise for ten thousand years. You have the longest life of any creature in this world, and you were in great danger of having that precious life cut short by those cruel boys. Luckily, I was passing by and saved you, and so life is still yours. Now I am going to take you back to your home, the sea, at once. Do not let yourself be caught again, for there might be no one to save you next time!”
All the time that the kind fisherman was speaking he was walking quickly to the shore and out upon the rocks; then putting the tortoise into the water he watched the animal disappear, and turned homewards himself, for he was tired and the sun had set.
The next morning Urashima went out as usual in his boat. The weather was fine and the sea and sky were both blue and soft in the tender haze of the summer morning. Urashima got into his boat and dreamily pushed out to sea, throwing his line as he did so. He soon passed the other fishing boats and left them behind him till they were lost to sight in the distance, and his boat drifted further and further out upon the blue waters. Somehow, he knew not why, he felt unusually happy that morning; and he could not help wishing that, like the tortoise he set free the day before, he had thousands of years to live instead of his own short span of human life.
He was suddenly startled from his reverie by hearing his own name called, “Urashima, Urashima!”
Clear as a bell and soft as the summer wind the name floated over the sea.
He stood up and looked in every direction, thinking that one of the other boats had overtaken him, but gaze as he might over the wide expanse of water, near or far there was no sign of a boat, so the voice could not have come from any human being.
Startled, and wondering who or what it was that had called him so clearly, he looked in all directions round about him and saw that without his knowing it a tortoise had come to the side of the boat. Urashima saw with surprise that it was the very tortoise he had rescued the day before.
“Well, Mr. Tortoise,” said Urashima, “was it you who called my name just now?”
The tortoise nodded its head several times and said, “Yes, it was I. Yesterday in your honorable shadow (o kage sama de) my life was saved, and I have come to offer you my thanks and to tell you how grateful I am for your kindness to me.”
“Indeed,” said Urashima, “that is very polite of you. Come up into the boat. I would offer you a smoke, but as you are a tortoise doubtless you do not smoke,” and the fisherman laughed at the joke.
“He-he-he-he!” laughed the tortoise; “sake (rice wine) is my favorite refreshment, but I do not care for tobacco.”
“Indeed,” said Urashima, “I regret very much that I have no “sake” in my boat to offer you, but come up and dry your back in the sun — tortoises always love to do that.”
So the tortoise climbed into the boat, the fisherman helping him, and after an exchange of complimentary speeches the tortoise said, “Have you ever seen Rin Gin, the Palace of the Dragon King of the Sea, Urashima?”
The fisherman shook his head and replied; “No; year after year the sea has been my home, but though I have often heard of the Dragon King’s realm under the sea I have never yet set eyes on that wonderful place. It must be very far away, if it exists at all!”
“Is that really so? You have never seen the Sea King’s Palace? Then you have missed seeing one of the most wonderful sights in the whole universe. It is far away at the bottom of the sea, but if I take you there we shall soon reach the place. If you would like to see the Sea King’s land I will be your guide.”
“I should like to go there, certainly, and you are very kind to think of taking me, but you must remember that I am only a poor mortal and have not the power of swimming like a sea creature such as you are — ”
Before the fisherman could say more the tortoise stopped him, saying, “What? You need not swim yourself. If you will ride on my back I will take you without any trouble on your part.”
“But,” said Urashima, “how is it possible for me to ride on your small back?”
“It may seem absurd to you. but I assure you that you can do so. Try at once! Just come and get on my back, and see if it is as impossible as you think!”
As the tortoise finished speaking, Urashima looked at its shell, and strange to say be saw that the creature had suddenly grown so big that a man could easily sit on its back.
“This is strange indeed!” said Urashima; “then. Mr. Tortoise, with your kind permission Dokoisho!” he exclaimed as he jumped on.
The tortoise, with an unmoved face, as if this strange proceeding were quite an ordinary event, said, “Now we will set out at our leisure,” and with these words he leapt into the sea with Urashima on his back.
Down through the water the tortoise dived. For a long time, these two strange companions rode through the sea. Urashima never grew tired, nor his clothes moist with the water. At last, far away in the distance a magnificent gate appeared, and behind the gate, the long, sloping roofs of a palace on the horizon.
“Ya.” exclaimed Urashima. “that looks like the gate of some large palace just appearing! Mr. Tortoise, can you tell what that place is we can now see?”
“That is the great gate of the Rin Gin Palace, the large roof that you see behind the gate is the Sea King’s Palace itself.”
“Then we have at last come to the realm of the Sea King and to his Palace,” said Urashima.
“Yes, indeed,” answered the tortoise, “and don’t you think we have come very quickly?”
And while he was speaking the tortoise reached the side of the gate. “And here we are, and you must please walk from here.”
The tortoise now went in front, and speaking to the gatekeeper, said, “This is Urashima Taro, from the country of Japan. I have had the honor of bringing him as a visitor to this kingdom. Please show him the way.”
Then the gatekeeper, who was a fish, at once led the way through the gate before him.
The red bream, the flounder, the sole, the cuttlefish, and all the chief vassals of the Dragon King of the Sea now came out with courtly bows to welcome the stranger.
“Urashima Sama, Urashima Sama! Welcome to the Sea Palace, the home of the Dragon King of the Sea. Thrice welcome are you, having come from such a distant country. And you, Mr. Tortoise, we are greatly indebted to you for all your trouble in bringing Urashima here.” Then, turning again to Urashima, they said, “Please follow us this way,” and from here the whole band of fishes became his guides.
Urashima, being only a poor fisher lad, did not know how to behave in a palace; but, strange though it was all to him, he did not feel ashamed or embarrassed, but followed his kind guides quite calmly where they led to the inner palace.
When he reached the portals, a beautiful Princess with her attendant maidens came out to welcome him. She was more beautiful than any human being, and was robed in flowing garments of red and soft green like the underside of a wave, and golden threads glimmered through the folds of her gown. Her lovely black hair streamed over her shoulders in the fashion of a king’s daughter many hundreds of years ago. And when she spoke her voice sounded like music over the water.
Urashima was lost in wonder while he looked upon her, and he could not speak. Then he remembered that he ought to bow, but before he could take a bow the Princess took him by the hand and led him to a beautiful hall, and to the seat of honor at the upper end, and bade him be seated.
“Urashima Taro, it gives me the highest pleasure to welcome you to my father’s kingdom,” said the Princess. “Yesterday you set free a tortoise, and I have sent for you to thank you for saving my life, for I was that tortoise. Now if you like you shall live here forever in the land of eternal youth, where summer never dies and where sorrow never comes, and I will be your bride if you will, and we will live together happily forever afterwards!”
And as Urashima listened to her sweet words and gazed upon her lovely face his heart was filled with a great wonder and joy, and he answered her, wondering if it was not all a dream, “Thank you a thousand times for your kind speech. There is nothing I could wish for more than to be permitted to stay here with you in this beautiful land, of which I have often heard, but have never seen to this day. Beyond all words, this is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.”
While he was speaking a train of fishes appeared, all dressed in ceremonial, trailing garments. One by one, silently, and with stately steps, they entered the hall, bearing on coral trays delicacies of fish and seaweed, such as no one can dream of, and this wondrous feast was set before the bride and bridegroom. The bridal was celebrated with dazzling splendor, and in the Sea King’s realm there was great rejoicing.
As soon as the young pair had pledged themselves in the wedding cup of wine, three times three, music was played, and songs were sung, and fishes with silver scales and golden tails stepped in from the waves and danced. Urashima enjoyed himself with all his heart. Never in his whole life had he sat down to such a marvelous feast.
When the feast was over the Princes asked the bridegroom if he would like to walk through the palace and see all there was to be seen. Then the happy fisherman, following his bride, the Sea King’s daughter, was shown all the wonders of that enchanted land where youth and joy go hand in hand and neither time nor age can touch them. The palace was built of coral and adorned with pearls, and the beauties and wonders of the place were so great that the tongue fails to describe them.
But, to Urashima, more wonderful than the palace was the garden that surrounded it.
Here was to be seen at one time the scenery of the four different seasons; the beauties of summer and winter, spring and autumn, were displayed to the wondering visitor at once.
First, he looked to the east, the plum and cherry trees were seen in full bloom, the nightingales sang in the pink avenues, and butterflies flitted from flower to flower.
Looking to the south all the trees were green in the fullness of summer, and the day cicala and the night cricket chirruped loudly.
Looking to the west, the autumn maples were ablaze like a sunset sky, and the chrysanthemums were in perfection.
Looking to the north the change made Urashima start, for the ground was silver white with snow, and trees and bamboos were also covered with snow and the pond was thick with ice.
And each day there were new joys and new wonders for Urashima, and so great was his happiness that he forgot everything, even the home he had left behind and his parents and his own country, and three days passed without his even thinking of all he had left behind. Then his mind came back to him and he remembered who he was, and that he did not belong to this wonderful land or the Sea King’s palace, and he said to himself, “O dear! I must not stay on here, for I have an old father and mother at home. What can have happened to them all this time? How anxious they must have been these days when I did not return as usual. I must go back at once without letting one more day pass.” And he began to prepare for the journey in great haste.
Then he went to his beautiful wife, the Princess, and bowing low before her he said, “Indeed, I have been very happy with you for a long time, Otohime Sama, and you have been kinder to me than any words can tell. But now I must say good-by. I must go back to my old parents.”
Then Otohime Sama began to weep, and said softly and sadly, “Is it not well with you here, Urashima, that you wish to leave me so soon? Where is the haste? Stay with me yet another day only!”
But Urashima had remembered his old parents, and in Japan the duty to parents is stronger than everything else, stronger even than pleasure or love, and he would not be persuaded, but answered, “Indeed, I must go. Do not think that I wish to leave you. It is not that. I must go and see my old parents. Let me go for one day and I will come back to you.”
“Then,” said the Princess sorrowfully, “there is nothing to be done. I will send you back to-day to your father and mother, and instead of trying to keep you with me one more day, I shall give you this as a token of our love — please take it back with you;” and she brought him a beautiful lacquer box tied about with a silken cord and tassels of red silk.
Urashima had received so much from the Princess already that he felt some compunction in taking the gift, and said, “It does not seem right for me to take yet another gift from you after all the many favors I have received at your hands, but because it is your wish I will do so.” And then he added, “Tell me what is this box?”
“That,” answered the Princess “is the tamate-bako (Box of the Jewel Hand), and it contains something very precious. Now promise me that you will never open this box!”
And Urashima promised that he would never, never open the box whatever happened. Then bidding good-by to Otohime Sama he went down to the seashore, the Princess and her attendants following him, and there he found a large tortoise waiting for him.
He quickly mounted the creature’s back and was carried away over the shining sea into the East. He looked back to wave his hand to Otohime Sama till at last he could see her no more, and the land of the Sea King and the roofs of the wonderful palace were lost in the far, far distance. Then, with his face turned eagerly towards his land, he looked for the rising of the blue hills on the horizon before him.
At last, the tortoise carried him into the bay he knew so well, and to the shore from whence he had set out. He stepped on to the shore and looked about him while the tortoise rode away back to the Sea King’s realm.
But what is the strange fear that seizes Urashima as he stands and looks about him? Why does he gaze so fixedly at the people that pass him by, and why do they in turn stand and look at him? The shore is the same and the hills are the same, but the people that he sees walking past him have very different faces to those he had known so well before.
Wondering what it can mean he walks quickly towards his old home. Even that looks different, but a house stands on the spot, and he calls out, “Father, I have just returned!” and he was about to enter, when he saw a strange man coming out.
“Perhaps my parents have moved while I have been away, and have gone somewhere else,” was the fisherman’s thought. Somehow, he began to feel strangely anxious, he could not tell why.
“Excuse me,” said he to the man who was staring at him, “but till within the last few days I have lived in this house. My name is Urashima Taro. Where have my parents gone whom I left here?”
A very bewildered expression came over the face of the man, and, still gazing intently on Urashima’s face, he said, “What? Are you Urashima Taro?”
“Yes,” said the fisherman, “I am Urashima Taro!”
“Ha, ha!” laughed the man, “you must not make such jokes. It is true that once upon a time, a man called Urashima Taro did live in this village, but that is a story three hundred years old. He could not possibly be alive now!”
When Urashima heard these strange words he was frightened, and said, “Please, please, you must not joke with me, I am greatly perplexed. I am really Urashima Taro, and I certainly have not lived three hundred years. Till four or five days ago, I lived on this spot. Tell me what I want to know without more joking, please.”
But the man’s face grew more and more grave, and he answered, “You may or may not be Urashima Taro, I do not know. But the Urashima Taro of whom I have heard is a man who lived three hundred years ago. Perhaps you are his spirit come to revisit your old home?”
“Why do you mock me?” said Urashima. “I am no spirit! I am a living man — do you not see my feet;” and “don-don,” he stamped on the ground, first with one foot and then with the other to show the man because Japanese ghosts have no feet.
“But Urashima Taro lived three hundred years ago, that is all I know; it is written in the village chronicles, ” persisted the man, who could not believe what the fisherman said.
Urashima was lost in bewilderment and trouble. He stood looking all around him, terribly puzzled, and, indeed, something in the appearance of everything was different to what he remembered before he went away, and the awful feeling came over him that what the man said was perhaps true.
He seemed to be in a strange dream. The few days he had spent in the Dragon King’s palace beyond the sea had not been days at all: they had been hundreds of years. And in that time his parents had died and all the people he had ever known, and the village had written down his story. There was no use in staying here any longer. He must get back to his beautiful wife beyond the sea. He made his way back to the beach, carrying in his hand the box which the Princess had given him. But which was the way? He could not find it alone! Suddenly he remembered the box, the tamate-bako.
“The Princess told me when she gave me the box never to open it — that it contained a very precious thing. But now that I have no home, now that I have lost everything that was dear to me here, and my heart grows thin with sadness, at such a time, if I open the box, surely I shall find something that will help me, something that will show me the way back to my beautiful Princess over the sea. There is nothing else for me to do now. Yes, yes, I will open the box and look in!”
Slowly, very slowly, he untied the red silk cord, slowly and wonderingly he lifted the lid of the precious box. And what did he find? There were two rose pedals in the box, a red one he could sense signifying life on earth and a while one that he sensed belonged to the spirit. Now he knew why the box was forbidden. He would have to choose to live forever with his love in the timelessness of the Dragon King’s palace, and forsake his ways in the world, or, to choose to rekindle his ancestral home and die an honorable yet mortal death.
To this day, on the beach were Urashima Taro stood, remains the two roses of two different colors. Those that gaze upon the ocean see the two different yet infinite paths, and know that only one may be taken, so that the spirit and the earth hover in continual engagement in the Yin and the Yang.