This is a folk tale from Yoshiga Village, in southwestern Shimane Prefecture. It mentions a Jizo, which can be thought of as the patron Buddha of children (particularly deceased ones). Jizo statues are fairly recognizable, not just for his merciful face, but for the red scarf he wears. Jizo statues are found throughout Japan, and this is only the first of the Jizo stories I’ll be covering. Lafcadio Hearn, a famous author who lived in Matsue in the 1890’s, also wrote extensively about Jizo.
A long time ago, there was a boy whose mother had died. When he was about six years old, his father married another woman, and when his father was away, his step-mother would not let him eat any food. When he was out and about and saw others eating, he would sigh to himself about how tasty the food looked, and then he would return home and ask, “Mother, could I please have some food?”
“No, no, you can’t have any food right now, foolish child. Go out and play, and don’t say such silly things.”
And so he continued to go without food while his father was gone. Again and again he would ask, but to no avail, until one day his step-mother replied, “Fine, fine. If you want to eat so badly, take this riceball and feed it to the Jizo down there. If the Jizo eats it, then I’ll let you have some food. But if the Jizo doesn’t eat it, you can’t eat anything either.”
Overjoyed, the boy took the riceball and ran down to the Jizo. He cried, “Jizo-sama, Jizo-sama! I beg you, please eat this riceball. If you do, then I can eat something too! But… but if you don’t eat it, then I’ll never be able to eat while my father is away!” As he started to sob, the statue reached out a stone hand and took the riceball, with a crunch crunch he began to eat it.
The boy ran home and told his step-mother, “He ate it, Mother! He ate it! Jizo-sama ate the riceball, so I can have some food too!”
However, his step-mother replied, “Don’t say such stupid things! It’s impossible for a stone statue of a Jizo to eat a riceball! No matter what you say, I’m not giving you a thing!”
“I’m not lying!” he pleaded. “Come see for yourself! Get the old lady next door to come see, too! Quickly, while it’s still eating!”
Unable to calm him down while he was making such a fuss, they went along with him and say that the stone Jizo was still eating eating the riceball with a crunch, crunch, crunch.
The boy’s step-mother was shocked. “I’m such a horrible person!” she cried. “I never gave him any food, and told him to feed the stone Jizo even though I knew it was possible. Little did I think Jizo-sama would actually eat it! From now on, I’ll make sure to feed this child!”
From that time on, she always fed the boy, and she began to love him and treat him as her own child.