THE STATUES IN BAMBOO HATS!
I found this posted by a magical colleague(Adrian Deery) on a digest to which I subscribe.
It is a Japanese folktale and probably a thousand years old. It interested me, not just because it's a good tale, but because it is based upon a similar premise to that of a Hans Christian Andersen story. For those of you interested, the Andersen story is called, "The Old Man Always Does What's Best". Enjoy this Japanese tale:
"THE STATUES IN BAMBOO HATS!"
Once upon a time a poor old farmer and his wife worked diligently all year long, hoping to save a little extra money to celebrate the New Year. Alas, the day was coming soon, and the couple had saved no
“I know” the old woman said, “We’ll sell my kimono”. “Impossible”, answered her husband, “It’s your wedding kimono”. “Yes”, said the woman, “but rice cakes will give us good fortune for the whole year. Sometimes we must make
Reluctantly the farmer agreed, and the next day, despite the falling snow, he set off for the village. As he was walking, he happened past six sacred stone statues of the god Jizo. He stopped and bowed to
them. “I apologize”, he said softly, “I have nothing to leave here as an offering”. He looked up at the
stone faces, and then he had an idea. “On my return home, I will bring you rice cakes”.
Relieved, he set off again.
When he reached the outskirts of the village, he saw
a woman walking in the other direction. She carried a
basket of fans and tears were streaming down her cheeks.
“Dear woman”, the farmer asked, “what is wrong”?
“Oh”, she wept, “I went to market to sell my fans,
but no one bought them. On New Year’s Day I marry
and I hoped to buy a kimono to wear on my wedding
When the old man heard this, he thought he must let her have
his wife’s wedding kimono. Surely the gods had sent
him to help this poor young woman. He bowed low and
made his offer.
The woman’s eyes lighted with joy, the old man felt
warmed. “Bless you”, she said happily, and in return, she handed
him the basket of fans. She held the kimono to her
breast and said, “It is beautiful, and when I wear it I
will think of you and your wife”.
The old farmer walked on, but he knew he would have a
hard time selling fans, and he didn’t want to return
home empty-handed. He began to call out to everyone,
“Fans for sale, beautiful fans! No one has ever seen
such beautiful fans”. He waved them in the air.
But everyone was busy preparing for the holidays, and
nobody even glanced at the fans. The farmer hung his
head, and as he walked, he mumbled, “Fans for sale,
fans for sale”, but his heart was no longer engaged.
Before long he happened to pass a well dressed,
bubbly fellow who was carrying a silver bell, ringing
it and humming a tune.
When the farmer saw how happy this man looked, he had
an idea. Surely he could sell a bell. Anyone would
want to ring a bell on New Year’s Day. “Excuse me”,
he said to the man, “Would you trade a basket full of
fans for your bell”?
The man beamed. “They’re beautiful”, he said, waving
one in the air around him, sending snow fluttering
this way and that. “I think I will”, he said and so
the farmer handed him the basket of fans and took the
He began to ring the bell. “Ring in the New Year!”
he chimed, but by now the day was getting late, and
everyone was scurrying home.
The snow was still falling, and the old farmer was
chilled to the bone, when he saw a young man selling
“Bamboo hats here for everyone!” the young man
cried. The farmer could not imagine that anyone would
buy a bamboo hat at this time of year.
“Would you like a hat”? the young man asked the
farmer as he passed.
The farmer looked down at his bell. “Would you trade
for a bell”? he asked. He could not ignore a young
man who seemed so eager and needy.
“I would indeed!” said the young man. “In fact, I’ll
give you the rest of my hats for that bell. Nothing
like a bell to ring in the New Year!”
And so the farmer traded his bell. “I don’t know
what I’ll do with these, but my wife will surely
understand”, he said to himself and with that he began
the long walk home.
He had no rice cakes, true, but he was glad the young
woman had a wedding kimono, and he was pleased the hat
maker would not be returning empty-handed. And
although he was hungry and cold, he felt good. He
walked with a spring in his step. After all, he was
heading home to his wife, and together they would
celebrate the New Year.
As he thought this, he walked past the Jizo statues.
“Oh my!” He had forgotten his promise. “I
have no rice cakes”, he thought sadly. Then he looked at
“I know!” he said brightly, and reached in to his
bag. One by one, he placed a hat upon the head of
each of the Jizo statues. “This will keep the snow
from your heads”, he said, bowing to each one as he
crowned it. “You will be dry for the New Year”.
But when he reached the sixth statue, he saw he had
no more hats. “What will I do”? He asked, and then
he smiled and touched his own head. He took off his hat and placed it on the head of the sixth statue. “There, now
you too shall be dry”, he said.
By the time he reached home, he was covered with
snow. “My dear husband”, said his wife as she opened
the door and embraced him. “Where is your hat”?
The old man hung his head, ashamed. “I am afraid I
have no rice cakes”. Then he told her the whole story. When he finished, he saw that his wife was
smiling. “You aren’t angry”? He asked.
“How could I be angry at such a generous man”? She
That night, just as they were falling asleep, they
were startled by the sound of thudding footsteps
“What’s that”? The old woman cried in alarm.
The two leaped out of bed and raced to the window,
and to their amazement, they saw the six Jizo statues
climbing up the hill toward their home. When the
statues reached the house, they bowed to the couple,
set something upon the doorstep, and then, stiffly,
they turned and thudded back down the hill.
The farmer rushed downstairs and opened the door, and
to his amazement, there he found an enormous rice
cake, a cake large enough to give the farmer and his
wife not only a wondrous New Year’s Day but also good
fortune for the rest of their days.
Back to Folktales