By: Emma Livingston, Staff Writer
Fairy tales and folk tales can give us great insight into the values and worldview of different cultures. This is the first installment of a new Das Tor feature: “Stories from Around the World.” Each week, I will bring you a new tale from one of the wide variety of cultural traditions here at Thunderbird. This week: “Old Man Blossom” a Japanese folk tale from the Edo dynasty. I would like to thank Akihiro Yamada for sharing this story with me.
One rainy day, a lost little puppy came to the home of a Kindly Old Couple.
“Poor little thing! You’re so cold and wet! You can stay at our house.”
The couple named the puppy Shiro for his gleaming white fur. They took good care of him. They fed him mochi and played with him in the river. He grew up healthy and strong.
One day, when the Kindly Old Man was hoeing in his garden, Shiro tugged at his leg.
“What is it, Shiro?” the Old Man asked. Shiro just tugged and tugged. “He must be trying to tell me something,” the Old Man thought and he followed Shiro up a tall mountain. Finally, Shiro stopped.
“Dig here!” he barked.
The Old Man’s eyes grew big at the sound of Shiro’s voice, but he did as he was told and started digging. He dug deeper and deeper until…Wah! A great pile of silver and gold coins glittered in the ground beneath him.
When the Old Man brought the treasure home to his Kindly Old Wife, she smiled and exclaimed, “Shiro must be a gift from the gods!”
The Greedy Old Woman from next door was watching them. She grew sick with jealously at the sight of all that gold. She ran back home to tell her Greedy Old Husband.
“We need some treasure, too!” he declared.
So the Greedy Old Man went over to the Kindly Old Couple’s home and asked to borrow Shiro to help him with farm work. He dragged Shiro up the mountain.
“Can’t you walk any faster? Where’s the treasure?” he demanded. Shiro didn’t know what to do, so he stopped in his tracks and whined.
“Is this where the treasure is?” the Greedy Old Man asked. And he took his spade and started digging.
He dug deeper and deeper until…Wha! He found a pile of stinking rubbish festering on the ground beneath him. The Greedy Old Man grew white with anger.
“I’ll teach you to lie to me, you worthless mongrel!” he shouted. And he took his spade and beat and beat and beat Shiro, until the poor little dog lay dead on the ground.
The Kindly Old Couple wept and wept and wept. They buried little Shiro in their garden and planted a pine tree over his grave.
“This pine tree will remind us of Shiro,” they told each other. They watered the tree before turning sadly to their home.
Overnight, the tree grew and grew. By the next morning, the tree was enormous.
“The spirit of Shiro must be in this tree!” the Old Woman thought.
She decided to make a mortar and pestle from the pine tree. Then she could make some mochi to put on Shiro’s grave.
First the Old Woman pored rice into the mortar.
Then, the Old Man began to pound the rice.
Pettum! Pettum! Pettum!
When the Old Woman looked into the mortar to check the rice…Wah! She saw a pile of gold glittering amongst the rice grains.
Naturally, the Greedy Old Woman was spying again. She told her husband who growled, “We need money, too!”
He ran over to where the Kindly Old Couple stood by Shiro’s grave and demanded,
“Lend me your mortar and pestle! I want to make mochi.”
He grabbed the mortar and pestle and took it to his garden. He threw some rice into the mortar and began to pound.
Pettum! Pettum! Pettum!
When the Greedy Old Man looked into the mortar to check for treasure… Bang! Bang! Great stones came flying out of the mortar and hit him all over his body.
“Ouch! Ouch!” cried the Greedy Old Man. “This mortar is dangerous! Let’s burn it!” And he threw the mortar and pestle into the fire and burnt them all up.
When the Kindly Old Couple came over to collect the mortar, they were furious to see what the Greedy Old Man had done. The Kindly Old Man stood very straight and very tall and said quietly,
“That mortar and pestle is the spirit of our dog Shiro. Give it back to us!”
“Okay, okay,” grumbled the Greedy Old Man. “Go ahead and take the ash.”
So the Kindly Old Man stooped, scraped up the ashes and placed them gently in a bamboo basket
“I will take Shiro’s ashes someplace where they won’t be disturbed,” he told his wife. And he began walking along the river.
The Kindly Old Man walked with his bamboo basket a long long way.
“These ashes are so heavy. Let me take a rest,” he thought. And he sat down under some bare trees.
Suddenly, a gust of wind rippled along the river. The wind picked up some of the ashes in the bamboo basket and carried them into the trees. Where the ash touched, flowers bloomed, cherry blossoms trembling upon the tree branches.
“It’s so strange and beautiful,” the Kindly Old Man whispered. He scooped up a handful of ash from the bamboo basket and threw them into another tree. This tree, too, blossomed. Again and again he scooped handfuls of ashes and threw them into the trees, and again and again the trees blossomed, until all the trees around him were bright with cherry blossoms.
“This is incredible!” the Old Man laughed. “I am Hanakajisan, Old Man Blossom.”
While he was busy sowing flowers, a local Lord and his Samurai came along the path and stopped to watch the Kindly Old Man.
“Wonderful,” the Lord murmured, moved by the beauty of the delicate blossoms. “Old Man,” he called, “please take this.” And he handed the Kindly Old Man a bag of glittering jewels.
Of course, the Greedy Old Man was hiding behind a tree and saw the whole thing.
“I want a bag of jewels, too!” he exclaimed.
He ran over to the Kindly Old Man and grabbed his bamboo basket. “Hey, hey! Give me that ash!” he hissed.
He grabbed a handful and shouted to the Lord, “Sir, sir! Look at me! I’m Hanasukujisan. I’m Old Man Blossom!” And he threw the ash into the tree above the Lord’s head.
Naturally, nothing happened. But some of the ash fell on the Lord and smudged his fine clothes.
“Disgusting!” the Lord bellowed. “Now I’m all dirty. What a vile Old Man! Samurai, grab that peasant and throw him in jail!
The Samurai tied the Greedy Old Man up and took him away to jail where he spent the rest of his life.
Old Man Blossom buried Shiro’s ashes under the sparkling cherry trees and went home to his wife. The two of them lived happily and humbly all their days, and never wanted for anything.