Women in the Snow at Fujisawa by Hiroshige

Tales of Old Japan by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford

Sparrow by Hiroshige

Tales of Old Japan
by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford


The Forty-Seven Ronins

The Loves of Gompachi and Komurasaki

Kazuma's Revenge

A Story of the Otokodate of Yedo

The Wonderful Adventures of Funakoshi Jiuyemon

The Eta Maiden and the Hatamoto

The Tongue-Cut Sparrow

The Accomplished and Lucky Tea-Kettle

The Crackling Mountain

The Story of the Old Man Who Made Withered Trees to Blossom

The Battle of the Ape and the Crab

The Adventures of Little Peachling

The Foxes' Wedding

The History of Sakata Kintoki

The Elves and the Envious Neighbour

The Ghost of Sakura

How Tajima Shume Was Tormented By a Devil of His Own Creation

Concerning Certain Superstitions

The Vampire Cat of Nabeshima

The Story of the Faithful Cat

How a Man Was Bewitched and Had His Head Shaved By the Foxes

The Grateful Foxes

The Badger's Money

The Prince and the Badger

Sermon I

Sermon II

Sermon III

An Account of the Hara-Kiri on the Ceremonies Observed at the Hara-Kiri of a Person Given in Charge To a Daimo

The Marriage Ceremony

On the Birth and Bearing of Children

Funeral Rites

SurLaLune Fairy Tales Main Page

Japanese Sermons:
The Sermons of Kiu-:
Sermon I


"Sermons preached here on 8th, 18th, and 28th days of every month." Such was the purport of a placard, which used to tempt me daily, as I passed the temple Chô-ô-ji. Having ascertained that neither the preacher nor his congregation would have any objection to my hearing one of these sermons, I made arrangements to attend the service, accompanied by two friends, my artist, and a scribe to take notes.

We were shown into an apartment adjoining a small chapel—a room opening on to a tastily arranged garden, wealthy in stone lanterns and dwarfed trees. In the portion of the room reserved for the priest stood a high table, covered with a cloth of white and scarlet silk, richly embroidered with flowers and arabesques; upon this stood a bell, a tray containing the rolls of the sacred books, and a small incense-burner of ancient Chinese porcelain. Before the table was a hanging drum, and behind it was one of those high, back-breaking arm-chairs which adorn every Buddhist temple. In one corner of the space destined for the accommodation of the faithful was a low writing-desk, at which sat, or rather squatted, a lay clerk, armed with a huge pair of horn spectacles, through which he glared, goblin-like, at the people, as they came to have their names and the amount of their offerings to the temple registered. These latter must have been small things, for the congregation seemed poor enough. It was principally composed of old women, nuns with bald shiny pates and grotesque faces, a few petty tradesmen, and half-a-dozen chubby children, perfect little models of decorum and devoutness. One lady there was, indeed, who seemed a little better to do in the world than the rest; she was nicely dressed, and attended by a female servant; she came in with a certain little consequential rustle, and displayed some coquetry, and a very pretty bare foot, as she took her place, and, pulling out a dandy little pipe and tobacco-pouch, began to smoke. Fire-boxes and spittoons, I should mention, were freely handed about; so that half-an-hour which passed before the sermon began was agreeably spent. In the meanwhile, mass was being celebrated in the main hall of the temple, and the monotonous nasal drone of the plain chant was faintly heard in the distance. So soon as this was over, the lay clerk sat himself down by the hanging drum, and, to its accompaniment, began intoning the prayer, "Na Mu Miyô Hô Ren Go Kiyô," the congregation fervently joining in unison with him. These words, repeated over and over again, are the distinctive prayer of the Buddhist sect of Nichiren, to which the temple Chô-ô-ji is dedicated. They are approximations to Sanscrit sounds, and have no meaning in Japanese, nor do the worshippers in using them know their precise value.

Soon the preacher, gorgeous in red and white robes, made his appearance, following an acolyte, who carried the sacred book called Hokké (upon which the sect of Nichiren is founded) on a tray covered with scarlet and gold brocade. Having bowed to the sacred picture which hung over the tokonoma—that portion of the Japanese room which is raised a few inches above the rest of the floor, and which is regarded as the place of honour—his reverence took his seat at the table, and adjusted his robes; then, tying up the muscles of his face into a knot, expressive of utter abstraction, he struck the bell upon the table thrice, burnt a little incense, and read a passage from the sacred book, which he reverently lifted to his head. The congregation joined in chorus, devout but unintelligent; for the Word, written in ancient Chinese, is as obscure to the ordinary Japanese worshipper as are the Latin liturgies to a high-capped Norman peasant-woman. While his flock wrapped up copper cash in paper, and threw them before the table as offerings, the priest next recited a passage alone, and the lay clerk irreverently entered into a loud dispute with one of the congregation, touching some payment or other. The preliminary ceremonies ended, a small shaven-pated boy brought in a cup of tea, thrice afterwards to be replenished, for his reverence's refreshment; and he, having untied his face, gave a broad grin, cleared his throat, swallowed his tea, and beamed down upon us, as jolly, rosy a priest as ever donned stole or scarf. His discourse, which was delivered in the most familiar and easy manner, was an extempore dissertation on certain passages from the sacred books. Whenever he paused or made a point, the congregation broke in with a cry of "Nammiyô!" a corruption of the first three words of the prayer cited above, to which they always contrived to give an expression or intonation in harmony with the preacher's meaning.

"It is a matter of profound satisfaction to me," began his reverence Nichirin, smiling blandly at his audience, "to see so many gentlemen and ladies gathered together here this day, in the fidelity of their hearts, to do honour to the feast of Kishimojin."84

"Nammiyô! nammiyô!" self-depreciatory, from the congregation.

"I feel certain that your piety cannot fail to find favour with Kishimojin. Kishimojin ever mourns over the tortures of mankind, who are dwelling in a house of fire, and she ever earnestly strives to find some means of delivering them.

"Nammiyô! nammiyô!" grateful and reverential.

"Notwithstanding this, it is useless your worshipping Kishimojin, and professing to believe in her, unless you have truth in your hearts; for she will not receive your offerings. Man, from his very birth, is a creature of requirements; he is for ever seeking and praying. Both you who listen, and I who preach, have all of us our wants and wishes. If there be any person here who flatters himself that he has no wishes and no wants, let him reflect. Does not every one wish and pray that heaven and earth may stand for ever, that his country and family may prosper, that there may be plenty in the land, and that the people may be healthy and happy? The wishes of men, however, are various and many; and these wishes, numberless as they are, are all known to the gods from the beginning. It is no use praying, unless you have truth in your heart. For instance, the prayer Na Mu is a prayer committing your bodies to the care of the gods; if, when you utter it, your hearts are true and single, of a surety your request will be granted. Now, this is not a mere statement made by Nichiren, the holy founder of this sect; it is the sacred teaching of Buddha himself, and may not be doubted."

"Nammiyô! nammiyô!" with profound conviction.

"The heart of man is, by nature, upright and true; but there are seven passions85 by which it is corrupted. Buddha is alarmed when he sees the fires by which the world is being consumed. These fires are the five lusts of this sinful world; and the five lusts are, the desire for fair sights, sweet sounds, fragrant smells, dainty meats, and rich trappings. Man is no sooner endowed with a body than he is possessed by these lusts, which become his very heart; and, it being a law that every man follows the dictates of his heart, in this way the body, the lusts of the flesh, the heart, and the dictates of the heart, blaze up in the consuming fire. 'Alas! for this miserable world!' said the divine Buddha."

"Nammiyô! nammiyô!" mournful, and with much head-shaking.

"There is not so foul thing under heaven as the human body. The body exudes grease, the eyes distil gums, the nose is full of mucus, the mouth of slobbering spittle; nor are these the most impure secretions of the body. What a mistake it is to look upon this impure body as clean and perfect! Unless we listen to the teachings of Buddha, how shall we be washed and purified?"

"Nammiyô, nammiyô!" from an impure and very miserable sinner, under ten years of age.

"The lot of man is uncertain, and for ever running out of the beaten track. Why go to look at the flowers, and take delight in their beauty? When you return home, you will see the vanity of your pleasure. Why purchase fleeting joys of loose women? How long do you retain the delicious taste of the dainties you feast upon? For ever wishing to do this, wishing to see that, wishing to eat rare dishes, wishing to wear fine clothes, you pass a lifetime in fanning the flames which consume you. What terrible matter for thought is this! In the poems of the priest Saigiyo it is written, 'Verily I have been familiar with the flowers; yet are they withered and scattered, and we are parted. How sad!' The beauty of the convolvulus, how bright it is!—and yet in one short morning it closes its petals and fades. In the book called Rin Jo Bo Satsu86 we are told how a certain king once went to take his pleasure in his garden, and gladden his eyes with the beauty of his flowers. After a while he fell asleep; and as he slumbered, the women of his train began pulling the flowers to pieces. When the king awoke, of all the glory of his flowers there remained but a few torn and faded petals. Seeing this, the king said, 'The flowers pass away and die; so is it with mankind: we are born, we grow old, we sicken and die; we are as fleeting as the lightning's flash, as evanescent as the morning dew.' I know not whether any of you here present ever fix your thoughts upon death; yet it is a rare thing for a man to live for a hundred years. How piteous a thing it is that in this short and transient life men should consume themselves in a fire of lust! and if we think to escape from this fire, how shall we succeed save only by the teaching of the divine Buddha?"

"Nammiyô! nammiyô!" meekly and entreatingly.

"Since Buddha himself escaped from the burning flames of the lusts of the flesh, his only thought has been for the salvation of mankind. Once upon a time there was a certain heretic, called Rokutsuponji, a reader of auguries, cunning in astrology and in the healing art. It happened, one day, that this heretic, being in company with Buddha, entered a forest, which was full of dead men's skulls. Buddha, taking up one of the skulls and tapping it thus" (here the preacher tapped the reading-desk with his fan), "said, 'What manner of man was this bone when alive?—and, now that he is dead, in what part of the world has he been born again?' The heretic, auguring from the sound which the skull, when struck, gave forth, began to tell its past history, and to prophesy the future. Then Buddha, tapping another skull, again asked the same question. The heretic answered—

"'Verily, as to this skull, whether it belonged to a man or a woman, whence its owner came or whither he has gone, I know not. What think you of it?"

"'Ask me not,' answered Buddha. But the heretic pressed him, and entreated him to answer; then Buddha said, 'Verily this is the skull of one of my disciples, who forsook the lusts of the flesh.'

"Then the heretic wondered, and said—

"'Of a truth, this is a thing the like of which no man has yet seen. Here am I, who know the manner of the life and of the death even of the ants that creep. Verily, I thought that no thing could escape my ken; yet here lies one of your disciples, than whom there lives no nobler thing, and I am at fault. From this day forth I will enter your sect, praying only that I may receive your teaching.'

"Thus did this learned heretic become a disciple of Buddha. If such an one as he was converted, how much the more should after-ages of ordinary men feel that it is through. Buddha alone that they can hope to overcome the sinful lusts of the flesh! These lusts are the desires which agitate our hearts: if we are free from these desires, our hearts will be bright and pure, and there is nothing, save the teaching of Buddha, which can ensure us this freedom. Following the commands of Buddha, and delivered by him from our desires, we may pass our lives in peace and happiness."

"Nammiyô! nammiyô!" with triumphant exultation.

"In the sacred books we read of conversion from a state of sin to a state of salvation. Now this salvation is not a million miles removed from us; nor need we die and be born again into another world in order to reach it. He who lays aside his carnal lusts and affections, at once and of a certainty becomes equal to Buddha. When we recite the prayer Na Mu Miyô Hô Ren Go Kiyô, we are praying to enter this state of peace and happiness. By what instruction, other than that of Nichiren, the holy founder of this sect, can we expect to attain this end? If we do attain it, there will be no difference between our state and that of Buddha and of Nichiren. With this view we have learnt from the pious founder of our sect that we must continually and thankfully repeat the prayer Na Mu Miyô Hô Ren Go Kiyô, turning our hearts away from lies, and embracing the truth."

Such were the heads of the sermon as they were taken down by my scribe. At its conclusion, the priest, looking about him smiling, as if the solemn truths he had been inculcating were nothing but a very good joke, was greeted by long and loud cries of "Nammiyô! nammiyô!" by all the congregation. Then the lay clerk sat himself down again by the hanging drum; and the service ended as it had begun, by prayer in chorus, during which the priest retired, the sacred book being carried out before him by his acolyte.

Although occasionally, as in the above instance, sermons are delivered as part of a service on special days of the month, they are more frequently preached in courses, the delivery occupying about a fortnight, during which two sermons are given each day. Frequently the preachers are itinerant priests, who go about the towns and villages lecturing in the main hall of some temple or in the guest-room of the resident priest.

There are many books of sermons published in Japan, all of which have some merit and much quaintness: none that I have seen are, however, to my taste, to be compared to the "Kiu-ô Dô-wa," of which the following three sermons compose the first volume. They are written by a priest belonging to the Shingaku sect—a sect professing to combine all that is excellent in the Buddhist, Confucian, and Shin Tô teaching. It maintains the original goodness of the human heart; and teaches that we have only to follow the dictates of the conscience implanted in us at our birth, in order to steer in the right path. The texts are taken from the Chinese classical books, in the same way as our preachers take theirs from the Bible. Jokes, stories which are sometimes untranslatable into our more fastidious tongue, and pointed applications to members of the congregation, enliven the discourses; it being a principle with the Japanese preacher that it is not necessary to bore his audience into virtue.



Môshi87 says, "Benevolence is the heart of man; righteousness is the path of man. How lamentable a thing is it to leave the path and go astray, to cast away the heart and not know where to seek for it!"

The text is taken from the first chapter of Kôshi (the commentator), on Môshi.

Now this quality, which we call benevolence, has been the subject of commentaries by many teachers; but as these commentaries have been difficult of comprehension, they are too hard to enter the ears of women and children. It is of this benevolence that, using examples and illustrations, I propose to treat.

A long time ago, there lived at Kiôto a great physician, called Imaôji—I forget his other name: he was a very famous man. Once upon a time, a man from a place called Kuramaguchi advertised for sale a medicine which he had compounded against the cholera, and got Imaôji to write a puff for him. Imaôji, instead of calling the medicine in the puff a specific against the cholera, misspelt the word cholera so as to make it simpler. When the man who had employed him went and taxed him with this, and asked him why he had done so, he answered, with a smile—

"As Kuramaguchi is an approach to the capital from the country, the passers-by are but poor peasants and woodmen from the hills: if I had written 'cholera' at length, they would have been puzzled by it; so I wrote it in a simple way, that should pass current with every one. Truth itself loses its value if people don't understand it. What does it signify how I spelt the word cholera, so long as the efficacy of the medicine is unimpaired?"

Now, was not that delightful? In the same way the doctrines of the sages are mere gibberish to women and children who cannot understand them. Now, my sermons are not written for the learned: I address myself to farmers and tradesmen, who, hard pressed by their daily business, have no time for study, with the wish to make known to them the teachings of the sages; and, carrying out the ideas of my teacher, I will make my meaning pretty plain, by bringing forward examples and quaint stories. Thus, by blending together the doctrines of the Shintô, Buddhist, and other schools, we shall arrive at something near the true principle of things. Now, positively, you must not laugh if I introduce a light story now and then. Levity is not my object: I only want to put things in a plain and easy manner.

Well, then, the quality which we call benevolence is, in fact, a perfection; and it is this perfection which Môshi spoke of as the heart of man. With this perfect heart, men, by serving their parents, attain to filial piety; by serving their masters they attain to fidelity; and if they treat their wives, their brethren, and their friends in the same spirit, then the principles of the five relations of life will harmonize without difficulty. As for putting perfection into practice, parents have the special duties of parents; children have the special duties of children; husbands have the special duties of husbands; wives have the special duties of wives. It is when all these special duties are performed without a fault that true benevolence is reached; and that again is the true heart of man.

For example, take this fan: any one who sees it knows it to be a fan; and, knowing it to be a fan, no one would think of using it to blow his nose in. The special use of a fan is for visits of ceremony; or else it is opened in order to raise a cooling breeze: it serves no other purpose. In the same way, this reading-desk will not do as a substitute for a shelf; again, it will not do instead of a pillow: so you see that a reading-desk also has its special functions, for which you must use it. So, if you look at your parents in the light of your parents, and treat them with filial piety, that is the special duty of children; that is true benevolence; that is the heart of man. Now although you may think that, when I speak in this way, I am speaking of others, and not of yourselves, believe me that the heart of every one of you is by nature pure benevolence. I am just taking down your hearts as a shopman does goods from his shelves, and pointing out the good and bad qualities of each; but if you will not lay what I say to your own accounts, but persist in thinking that it is all anybody's business but yours, all my labour will be lost.

Listen! You who answer your parents rudely, and cause them to weep; you who bring grief and trouble on your masters; you who cause your husbands to fly into passions; you who cause your wives to mourn; you who hate your younger brothers, and treat your elder brothers with contempt; you who sow sorrow broadcast over the world;—what are you doing but blowing your noses in fans, and using reading-desks as pillows? I don't mean to say that there are any such persons here; still there are plenty of them to be found—say in the back streets in India, for instance. Be so good as to mind what I have said.

Consider, carefully, if a man is born with a naturally bad disposition, what a dreadful thing that is! Happily, you and I were born with perfect hearts, which we would not change for a thousand—no, not for ten thousand pieces of gold: is not this something to be thankful for?

This perfect heart is called in my discourses, "the original heart of man." It is true that benevolence is also called the original heart of man; still there is a slight difference between the two. However, as the inquiry into this difference would be tedious, it is sufficient for you to look upon this original heart of man as a perfect thing, and you will fall into no error. It is true that I have not the honour of the personal acquaintance of every one of you who are present: still I know that your hearts are perfect. The proof of this, that if you say that which you ought not to say, or do that which you ought not to do, your hearts within you are, in some mysterious way, immediately conscious of wrong. When the man that has a perfect heart does that which is imperfect, it is because his heart has become warped and turned to evil. This law holds good for all mankind. What says the old song?—"When the roaring waterfall is shivered by the night-storm, the moonlight is reflected in each scattered drop."88 Although there is but one moon, she suffices to illuminate each little scattered drop. Wonderful are the laws of Heaven! So the principle of benevolence, which is but one, illumines all the particles that make up mankind. Well, then, the perfection of the human heart can be calculated to a nicety, So, if we follow the impulses of our perfect heart in whatever we undertake, we shall perform our special duties, and filial piety and fidelity will come to us spontaneously. You see the doctrines of this school of philosophy are quickly learnt. If you once thoroughly understand this, there will be no difference between your conduct and that of a man who has studied a hundred years. Therefore I pray you to follow the impulses of your natural heart; place it before you as a teacher, and study its precepts. Your heart is a convenient teacher to employ too: for there is no question of paying fees; and no need to go out in the heat of summer, or the cold of winter, to pay visits of ceremony to your master to inquire after his health. What admirable teaching this is, by means of which you can learn filial piety and fidelity so easily! Still, suspicions are apt to arise in men's minds about things that are seen to be acquired too cheaply; but here you can buy a good thing cheap, and spare yourselves the vexation of having paid an extravagant price for it. I repeat, follow the impulses of your hearts with all your might. In the Chin-yo, the second of the books of Confucius, it is certified beyond a doubt that the impulses of nature are the true path to follow; therefore you may set to work in this direction with your minds at ease.

Righteousness, then, is the true path, and righteousness is the avoidance of all that is imperfect. If a man avoids that which is imperfect, there is no need to point out how dearly he will be beloved by all his fellows. Hence it is that the ancients have defined righteousness as that which ought to be—that which is fitting. If a man be a retainer, it is good that he should perform his service to his lord with all his might. If a woman be married, it is good that she should treat her parents-in-law with filial piety, and her husband with reverence. For the rest, whatever is good, that is righteousness and the true path of man.

The duty of man has been compared by the wise men of old to a high road. If you want to go to Yedo or to Nagasaki, if you want to go out to the front of the house or to the back of the house, if you wish to go into the next room or into some closet or other, there is a right road to each of these places: if you do not follow the right road, scrambling over the roofs of houses and through ditches, crossing mountains and desert places, you will be utterly lost and bewildered. In the same way, if a man does that which is not good, he is going astray from the high road. Filial piety in children, virtue in wives, truth among friends—but why enumerate all these things, which are patent?—all these are the right road, and good; but to grieve parents, to anger husbands, to hate and to breed hatred in others, these are all bad things, these are all the wrong road. To follow these is to plunge into rivers, to run on to thorns, to jump into ditches, and brings thousands upon ten thousands of disasters. It is true that, if we do not pay great attention, we shall not be able to follow the right road. Fortunately, we have heard by tradition the words of the learned Nakazawa Dôni: I will tell you about that, all in good time.

It happened that, once, the learned Nakazawa went to preach at Ikéda, in the province of Sesshiu, and lodged with a rich family of the lower class. The master of the house, who was particularly fond of sermons, entertained the preacher hospitably, and summoned his daughter, a girl some fourteen or fifteen years old, to wait upon him at dinner. This young lady was not only extremely pretty, but also had charming manners; so she arranged bouquets of flowers, and made tea, and played upon the harp, and laid herself out to please the learned man by singing songs. The preacher thanked her parents for all this, and said—

"Really, it must be a very difficult thing to educate a young lady up to such a pitch as this."

The parents, carried away by their feelings, replied—

"Yes; when she is married, she will hardly bring shame upon her husband's family. Besides what she did just now, she can weave garlands of flowers round torches, and we had her taught to paint a little;" and as they began to show a little conceit, the preacher said—

"I am sure this is something quite out of the common run. Of course she knows how to rub the shoulders and loins, and has learnt the art of shampooing?"

The master of the house bristled up at this and answered—

"I may be very poor, but I've not fallen so low as to let my daughter learn shampooing."

The learned man, smiling, replied, "I think you are making a mistake when you put yourself in a rage. No matter whether her family be rich or poor, when a woman is performing her duties in her husband's house, she must look upon her husband's parents as her own. If her honoured father-in-law or mother-in-law fall ill, her being able to plait flowers and paint pictures and make tea will be of no use in the sick-room. To shampoo her parents-in-law, and nurse them affectionately, without employing either shampooer or servant-maid, is the right path of a daughter-in-law. Do you mean to say that your daughter has not yet learnt shampooing, an art which is essential to her following the right path of a wife? That is what I meant to ask just now. So useful a study is very important."

At this the master of the house was ashamed, and blushing made many apologies, as I have heard. Certainly, the harp and guitar are very good things in their way; but to attend to nursing their parents is the right road of children. Lay this story to heart, and consider attentively where the right road lies. People who live near haunts of pleasure become at last so fond of pleasure, that they teach their daughters nothing but how to play on the harp and guitar, and train them up in the manners and ways of singing-girls, but teach them next to nothing of their duties as daughters; and then very often they escape from their parents' watchfulness, and elope. Nor is this the fault of the girls themselves, but the fault of the education which they have received from their parents. I do not mean to say that the harp and guitar, and songs and dramas, are useless things. If you consider them attentively, all our songs incite to virtue and condemn vice. In the song called "The Four Sleeves," for instance, there is the passage, "If people knew beforehand all the misery that it brings, there would be less going out with young ladies, to look at the flowers at night." Please give your attention to this piece of poetry. This is the meaning of it:—When a young man and a young lady set up a flirtation without the consent of their parents, they think that it will all be very delightful, and find themselves very much deceived. If they knew what a sad and cruel world this is, they would not act as they do. The quotation is from a song of remorse. This sort of thing but too often happens in the world.

When a man marries a wife, he thinks how happy he will be, and how pleasant it will be keeping house on his own account; but, before the bottom of the family kettle has been scorched black, he will be like a man learning to swim in a field, with his ideas all turned topsy-turvy, and, contrary to all his expectations, he will find the pleasures of housekeeping to be all a delusion. Look at that woman there. Haunted by her cares, she takes no heed of her hair, nor of her personal appearance. With her head all untidy, her apron tied round her as a girdle, with a baby twisted into the bosom of her dress, she carries some wretched bean sauce which she has been out to buy. What sort of creature is this? This all comes of not listening to the warnings of parents, and of not waiting for the proper time, but rushing suddenly into housekeeping. And who is to blame in the matter? Passion, which does not pause to reflect. A child of five or six years will never think of learning to play the guitar for its own pleasure. What a ten-million times miserable thing it is, when parents, making their little girls hug a great guitar, listen with pleasure to the poor little things playing on instruments big enough for them to climb upon, and squeaking out songs in their shrill treble voices! Now I must beg you to listen to me carefully. If you get confused and don't keep a sharp look-out, your children, brought up upon harp and guitar playing, will be abandoning their parents, and running away secretly. Depend upon it, from all that is licentious and meretricious something monstrous will come forth. The poet who wrote the "Four Sleeves" regarded it as the right path of instruction to convey a warning against vice. But the theatre and dramas and fashionable songs, if the moral that they convey is missed, are a very great mistake. Although you may think it very right and proper that a young lady should practise nothing but the harp and guitar until her marriage, I tell you that it is not so; for if she misses the moral of her songs and music, there is the danger of her falling in love with some man and eloping. While on this subject, I have an amusing story to tell you.

Once upon a time, a frog, who lived at Kiôto, had long been desirous of going to see Osaka. One spring, having made up his mind, he started off to see Osaka and all its famous places. By a series of hops on all-fours he reached a temple opposite Nishi-no-oka, and thence by the western road he arrived at Yamazaki, and began to ascend the mountain called Tenôzan. Now it so happened that a frog from Osaka had determined to visit Kiôto, and had also ascended Tenôzan; and on the summit the two frogs met, made acquaintance, and told one another their intentions. So they began to complain about all the trouble they had gone through, and had only arrived half-way after all: if they went on to Osaka and Kiôto, their legs and loins would certainly not hold out. Here was the famous mountain of Tenôzan, from the top of which the whole of Kiôto and Osaka could be seen: if they stood on tiptoe and stretched their backs, and looked at the view, they would save themselves from stiff legs. Having come to this conclusion, they both stood up on tiptoe, and looked about them; when the Kiôto frog said—

"Really, looking at the famous places of Osaka, which I have heard so much about, they don't seem to me to differ a bit from Kiôto. Instead of giving myself any further trouble to go on, I shall just return home."

The Osaka frog, blinking with his eyes, said, with a contemptuous smile, "Well, I have heard a great deal of talk about this Kiôto being as beautiful as the flowers, but it is just Osaka over again. We had better go home."

And so the two frogs, politely bowing to one another, hopped off home with an important swagger.

Now, although this is a very funny little story, you will not understand the drift of it at once. The frogs thought that they were looking in front of them; but as, when they stood up, their eyes were in the back of their heads, each was looking at his native place, all the while that he believed himself to be looking at the place he wished to go to. The frogs stared to any amount, it is true; but then they did not take care that the object looked at was the right object, and so it was that they fell into error. Please, listen attentively. A certain poet says—

"Wonderful are the frogs! Though they go on all-fours in an attitude of humility, their eyes are always turned ambitiously upwards."

A delightful poem! Men, although they say with their mouths, "Yes, yes, your wishes shall be obeyed,—certainly, certainly, you are perfectly right," are like frogs, with their eyes turned upwards. Vain fools! meddlers ready to undertake any job, however much above their powers! This is what is called in the text, "casting away your heart, and not knowing where to seek for it." Although these men profess to undertake any earthly thing, when it comes to the point, leave them to themselves, and they are unequal to the task; and if you tell them this, they answer—

"By the labour of our own bodies we earn our money; and the food of our mouths is of our own getting. We are under obligation to no man. If we did not depend upon ourselves, how could we live in the world?"

There are plenty of people who use these words, myself and my own, thoughtlessly and at random. How false is this belief that they profess! If there were no system of government by superiors, but an anarchy, these people, who vaunt themselves and their own powers, would not stand for a day. In the old days, at the time of the war at Ichi-no-tani, Minamoto no Yoshitsuné89 left Mikusa, in the province of Tamba, and attacked Settsu. Overtaken by the night among the mountains, he knew not what road to follow; so he sent for his retainer, Benkei, of the Temple called Musashi, and told him to light the big torches which they had agreed upon. Benkei received his orders and transmitted them to the troops, who immediately dispersed through all the valleys, and set fire to the houses of the inhabitants, so that one and all blazed up, and, thanks to the light of this fire, they reached Ichi-no-tani, as the story goes. If you think attentively, you will see the allusion. Those who boast about my warehouse, my house, my farm, my daughter, my wife, hawking about this "my" of theirs like pedlers, let there once come trouble and war in the world, and, for all their vain-gloriousness, they will be as helpless as turtles. Let them be thankful that peace is established throughout the world. The humane Government reaches to every frontier: the officials of every department keep watch night and day. When a man sleeps under his roof at night, how can he say that it is thanks to himself that he stretches his limbs in slumber? You go your rounds to see whether the shutters are closed and the front door fast, and, having taken every precaution, you lay yourself down to rest in peace: and what a precaution after all! A board, four-tenths of an inch thick, planed down front and rear until it is only two-tenths of an inch thick. A fine precaution, in very truth!—a precaution which may be blown down with a breath. Do you suppose such a thing as that would frighten a thief from breaking in? This is the state of the case. Here are men who, by the benevolence and virtue of their rulers, live in a delightful world, and yet, forgetting the mysterious providence that watches over them, keep on singing their own praises. Selfish egotists!

"My property amounts to five thousand ounces of silver. I may sleep with my eyes turned up, and eat and take my pleasure, if I live for five hundred or for seven hundred years. I have five warehouses and twenty-five houses. I hold other people's bills for fifteen hundred ounces of silver." So he dances a fling90 for joy, and has no fear lest poverty should come upon him for fifty or a hundred years. Minds like frogs, with eyes in the middle of their backs! Foolhardy thoughts! A trusty castle of defence indeed! How little can it be depended upon! And when such men are sleeping quietly, how can they tell that they may not be turned into those big torches we were talking about just now, or that a great earthquake will not be upheaved? These are the chances of this fitful world. With regard to the danger of too great reliance, I have a little tale to tell you. Be so good as to wake up from your drowsiness, and listen attentively.

There is a certain powerful shell-fish, called the Sazayé, with a very strong operculum. Now this creature, if it hears that there is any danger astir, shuts up its shell from within, with a loud noise, and thinks itself perfectly safe. One day a Tai and another fish, lost in envy at this, said—

"What a strong castle this is of yours, Mr. Sazayé! When you shut up your lid from within, nobody can so much as point a finger at you. A capital figure you make, sir."

When he heard this, the Sazayé, stroking his beard, replied—

"Well, gentlemen, although you are so good as to say so, it's nothing to boast of in the way of safety; yet I must admit that, when I shut myself up thus, I do not feel much anxiety."

And as he was speaking thus, with the pride that apes humility, there came the noise of a great splash; and the shell-fish, shutting up his lid as quickly as possible, kept quite still, and thought to himself, what in the world the noise could be. Could it be a net? Could it be a fish-hook? What a bore it was, always having to keep such a sharp look-out! Were the Tai and the other fish caught, he wondered; and he felt quite anxious about them: however, at any rate, he was safe. And so the time passed; and when he thought all was safe, he stealthily opened his shell, and slipped out his head and looked all round him, and there seemed to be something wrong—something with which he was not familiar. As he looked a little more carefully, lo and behold there he was in a fishmonger's shop, and with a card marked "sixteen cash" on his back.

Isn't that a funny story? And so, at one fell swoop, all your boasted wealth of houses and warehouses, and cleverness and talent, and rank and power, are taken away. Poor shell-fish! I think there are some people not unlike them to be found in China and India. How little self is to be depended upon! There is a moral poem which says, "It is easier to ascend to the cloudy heaven without a ladder than to depend entirely on oneself." This is what is meant by the text, "If a man casts his heart from him, he knows not where to seek for it." Think twice upon everything that you do. To take no care for the examination of that which relates to yourself, but to look only at that which concerns others, is to cast your heart from you. Casting your heart from you does not mean that your heart actually leaves you: what is meant is, that you do not examine your own conscience. Nor must you think that what I have said upon this point of self-confidences applies only to wealth and riches. To rely on your talents, to rely on the services you have rendered, to rely on your cleverness, to rely on your judgment, to rely on your strength, to rely on your rank, and to think yourself secure in the possession of these, is to place yourselves in the same category with the shell-fish in the story. In all things examine your own consciences: the examination of your own hearts is above all things essential.

(The preacher leaves his place.)

The text came from:

Freeman-Mitford, A. B. Tales of Old Japan. London: Macmillan, 1871, 1890.
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Footnote 84:

Kishimojin, a female deity of the Buddhists.
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Footnote 85:

The seven passions are joy, anger, sadness, fear, love, hatred, and desire.
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Footnote 86:

One of the Buddhist classics.
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Footnote 87:

Môshi, the Japanese pronunciation of the name of the Chinese philosopher Mêng Tse, whom Europeans call Mencius.
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Footnote 88:

"The moon looks on many brooks;
The brooks see but one moon."—T. MOORE.
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Footnote 89:

The younger brother of Minamoto no Yoritomo, who first established the government of the Shoguns. The battle of Ichi-no-tani took place in the year A.D. 1184.
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Footnote 90:

Literally, "a dance of the Province of Tosa."
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Available from Amazon.com

Tales of Old Japan : Folklore, Fairy Tales, Ghost Stories and Legends of the Samurai  by A. B. Mitford

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The Japanese Psyche: Major Motifs in Fairy Tales of Japan by Hayao Kawai, Gerow Reece (Translator), Sachiko Reece (Translator)


©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
E-mail: surlalune@aol.com
Page last updated June 1, 2005

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