This was a story I heard at Matsue’s Izumo Kanbeno-Sato, told in a very charming setting with illustrations and a talented narrator.

There once was a lonely old man who nonetheless was a very hard worker. Every day, he tended to his fields, without complaint. One day, he found a red cap in his fields, but there was no one around who could have dropped it. Taking a better look at it, he heard a tiny voice. “Dear Ojiisan,” it addressed the old man respectfully, “you’re a very hard worker. I’m a god, and I’ve been watching you. Take this hat as a gift. It will allow you to hear all things, and it will bring you good fortune.”

Gratefully, he accepted it, keeping it on his person. After finishing his labor for the day, he sat under a tree to take a nap, but couldn’t sleep because the crows above him were being so noisy; kaa, kaa, kaa, kaa. “Those crows!” he grumbled. “How can anyone fall asleep with all that ruckus?” Kaa, kaa, kaa, kaa, kaa, kaa.

It then occurred to him to try out the cap he had been gifted with. Doing so, the cacophony subsided, and he could hear human speech coming from the birds above: “The poor village headman over there. Did you hear? He’s terribly ill, and none of the human doctors can figure out what to do to cure him.” “They have no idea it’s because of the snake that died in his storeroom. It’s just a pile of bones by now, but being stuck in there is causing it so much grief that the headman has been sickened by it. It would be such a simple matter to give the snake a proper burial, and then the headman would be healed.” “Yes, but there is no way to tell the humans there. What a terrible misfortune.”

The old man immediately set out for the neighboring village to help the sick man. It took him several hours on foot to crossed the mountain, but he was accustomed to hard work and fatigue did not slow him. When he arrived, he asked to visit the village headman, but his attendants regretfully told him he was too ill to welcome an visitors. “Every doctor has tried to heal him, but to no avail. We’re at such a loss.”

“That’s why I’m here. I know how to heal him.”

“By all means, please! Save our headman!”

He met with the sick man and told him off the snake that died in his storeroom, and that it should be handled appropriately. The villagers found the bones, and then made a proper grave and offered rites to the spirit of the trapped snake. The headman was soon back on his feet, and was eager to express his thanks, giving the old man many gifts to take home with him. Satisfied with his successful good deed, the old man accepted the gifts and returned to his lonely mountain dwelling, where he continued his usual work.

Months later, messengers from the village came seeking his advice on behalf of the village headman’s daughter, who had taken ill. The doctors had tried everything, but could not determine the cause for her illness or the right way to treat her. The old man grabbed his red cap and followed them, eager to help if he was able to.

Upon arriving, he stood outside of her quarters, put on his cap, and listened. All he could hear, however, was the counter of the girl’s labored breathing. He was distressed that he had no way to help, but continued to wait in the village. The night, he did not hear any gossiping crows; only the sound of the trees rustling in the wind. Basa basa basa basa basa basa… basa basa basa basa basa basa…

When he put on his cap, he heard the gingko tree say to its companions, “It is with great regret that I must part with you all…” it said weakly and quietly… “but headman’s daughter’s quarters were built upon my roots. My roots are now damaged, and I will soon shrivel and die.”

The other trees were crying. “It’s so unfair,” the pine replied. “You’re still so young! If only they would tear down those quarters and allow your roots to heal, you could still have a long life. The headman’s daughter would be saved that way, too! But humans are too foolish to know that.”

The old man immediately informed the village headman what he must do to save his daughter. They demolished her quarters, and treated the gingko’s roots. Soon enough, both the tree and the girl began to regain their strength. When the girl was her usual cheerful self again, she insisted that she and her father hold an audience with the old man. “You’re so kind, Ojiisan. You’ve rescued both me and my father,” she said. “There must be some way to repay you! Please tell me anything you want.”

“I have already accepted your gifts before, and my needs have always been met,” he replied. “Although I have managed, I live a very lonely life.”

“Then stay here with us! We’ll adopt you as my grandfather,” she offered. Her father enthusiastically agreed, and the old man felt so welcomed that he couldn’t refuse. He moved in with them, and they all lived very happy, fulfilling lives.