Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A Niigata Folktale

Long ago two old men, one the pink of honesty, the other an arrant knave, inhabited a certain village in Echigo, as Niigata was then called. They happened to be next door neighbors, and one year, late in December, the two stood before their houses, passing the time of day. After exchanging greetings, the first said, "The second of January is just around the corner. That evening, as is the Japanese custom, let's both pray for good fortune." "Yes, that's an excellent idea. I certainly won't forget to do just that," rejoined the other. Bidding one another good day, the two went their separate ways. A few days afterward, on the morning of January 3 to be exact, the two men hailed each other across the common hedge separating their gardens.
"Happy New Year", said the greedy old man to his neighbor. "What sort of dream did you have? Was it a good one?" "Indeed it was. I dreamt of a great fortune that descended from the sky," the other replied. "And what about you?" he asked. "In my dream my fortune rose out of the ground. So we've both had good dreams." "Yes, it's going to be a very good year for the two of us." And the two parted in extremely good humor. A few days later, the weather proving exceedingly mild, the honest old man decided to plant some early beans. Taking up his hoe, he went outside into the vegetable garden behind his house. He began to form rows, and the morning was well advanced when his hoe struck a hard object just beow the surface. "There shouldn't be any stones in my vegetable patch. What could this be?" he wondered. The man began to dig the stone out, and what was his surprise to discover it was a large earthenware jar? Removing the lid and peering inside, the man found that it was filled with tightly packed gold bars, both large and small, gleaming with a blinding brightness.""Great Scott!" he exclaimed. "If this isn't the treasure my neighbor dreamed about, then I'm very much mistaken." And the honest old man immedately ran to his neighbor's to announce the wonderful news. The dishonest, greedy neighbor was quite breathless with glee, and being told where he would find his treasure, ran out of the house and into the next-door kitchen garden. Meanwhile, his worthy neighbor returned to his own home to tell his wife what had happened. It wasn't difficult to find the jar, for it was exactly where the honest old man had said it would be. Rubbing his hands with anticipation and singing "'Clank, clank' go the bars of gold", the miserly old man slowly lifted the lid fom the jar. As he did so, a mysterious swishing sound greeted his ears. Opening the lid further, he was surprised when something ropelike slid out. He then removed the lid completely, only to receive the shock of his life. For instead of gold bars, the jar contained a writhing mass of serpents, all tangled and coiled into one disgusting mass. "You dirty dog," he apostrophized his worthy neighbor. "Filled to the top with bars of gold, you say? You sure fooled me. But I warn you, two can play at this game!" And with that threat levelled at his unsuspecting neighbor, the man ran to his toolshed. Removing the longest ladder he owned, he returned next door with it, propping it against his neighbor's house. Up he climbed, straining under the weight of the snake-filled jar. Once on the roof the man crawled to the chimney, down which he peered. No sight could have provided a greater contrast with his own mood, for in the room below, sitting around a crackling fire warming themselves, were the man's neighbor and his wife, chatting merrily away. Looking on, the greedy man seethed with indignation. "Playing dirty tricks makes you feel good, does it? Take this, then, with my compliments!" And removing the lid from the jar, he dumped its contents into the room below. The man and his wife were suddenly interrupted by a cascade of gold bars dropping into the room through the chimney. "Look at that," exclaimed the man. "My dream has come true. Just as in my dream, our fortune has come to us from the sky. My, if strange things don't happen in twos." The old couple were extremely wealthy now, and needless to say, they lived happily ever after.


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