Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Little Priest with the Majic Nose

Long ago in Echigo there lived an old man. Every day he would go into the mountains to collect firewood, which he would then take to town to sell. In this way he just managed to eke out a living. On a certain day he took his firewood to town as usual, but he was unable to sell even a single cord. Exhausted from walking from one end of town to the other with his heavy load of wood, he paused to rest on a bridge. Gazing into the river below, the man made up his mind to make an offer of the unsold wood to the river god, rather than carry it all the way home. "I'm sorry to make you such a pitiful present, god of the river, but please condescend to accept my firewood." So saying, the man tossed bundle after bundle of wood into the waters below. When he had finished and was preparing to return home, out of the river rose a beautiful young maiden bearing a precious little child in her arms. "I am the river god's helper," she said to the surprised old man. "The god wishes to thank you for your offering of firewood, which greatly pleases him. In return, the god wishes that you should accept this small token of his gratitude." And with that she presented the little child. The old man, rubbing his hands excitedly, took the child from the maiden. "This is no ordinary child," explained the girl. "We call him 'little priest with the nose of majic'. Should you desire anything in the world, just state your wish, and the child shall grant it. There is one thing you yourself must never fail to do, however: every day you must feed the child a shrimp. Is that understood?" The old man could barely contain his delight at this good fortune. "Of course, of course. Every day, without fail. I shall take excellent care of this lovely child, be assured I shall." When he had said this the young girl vanished, and the man betook himself homewards, the priceless child safely cradled in his arms. When he returned home the old man placed the child on a shelf supporting religious objects, and he proceeded to take great care of the little priest, remembering the girl's injunction. At first the man was afraid to test the veracity of the girl's story, fearful of dissappointment, but one day screwing up his courage, the man asked the child for a sack of rice. "Little priest, please be so kind as to grant me some rice." Standing back to observe what followed, the man saw the priest blow his nose, which made a peculiar tinkling sound, and in an instant a sack of rice appeared. The old man was stunned. He also discovered no end to his wants. "I want piles of money. A house. A storeroom for my valuables." And on and on. It is no wonder, then, that before long the old man was the wealthiest individual in the district. Gone were the days when he would tramp into the mountains to collect firewood, when throughout the town would ring his cry "Firewood for sale, firewood for sale." And it seemed to the man, accustomed as he now was to this new life of indolent ease, that walking into town every day to buy a shrimp for the little priest had become an onerous chore, something closely resembling work. Accordingly, the man one day announced to the child a drastic change in their relations. "Little priest, I find that nothing remains to wish for. I no longer have any need of you, so I intend to return you to the river god." No sooner had he uttered these words than a strange sniffing sound issued from the nose of the little priest, and in an instant the house, the storeroom, and every other wonderful possession utterly vanished. "Wait! Wait! Don't leave me, little priest! I didn't mean what I said!" cried the man, driven to distraction. But the little priest too had disappeared without a trace. Looking about him the old man beheld the hovel he had formerly inhabited and all of its mean furnishings. The next day the streets of the town rang anew with the cry of "Firewood for sale, firewood for sale."
Translation 2009, Brian Southwick

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