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:


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 money.
“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 sacrifices”.

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 day”.

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 bell.

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.

“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 his hats. “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 replied.

That night, just as they were falling asleep, they were startled by the sound of thudding footsteps outside. “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.

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