When you hear of the old province of Inaba, you might already be aware of the famous White Hare of Inaba thanks to his role in a popular Kojiki myth. He is not the only famous animal of the region, which is also known for the Inaba-Go-Kitsune—the Five Foxes of Inaba.

Foxes (kitsune) are known throughout Japan as tricksters that are adept are transforming, especially into humans, and especially into beautiful women. Of these local five, one was called “Otonjoro,” based on the name she took while pretending to be a prostitute (joro) in Yoshiwara (the famed red light district of Tokyo back when it was Edo). While acting as “Otomi” she used her trickery to fool around with the men of the big city, but when she got bored of that, she returned home to Inaba Province. This is one of the stories about her.

The villagers could tell she was up to no good in the area, and dreaded falling victim to her tricks. “We should offer a big reward for someone to do away with that Otonjoro,” they said.

Two young men stepped forward, confident in their abilities to best the beast. “We’ll get rid of her, so make sure it’s a really big reward!”

When it was a full moon, they staked out that night in the shadows of a big tree, and soon they saw a big fox come by. Silently, they watched as she placed a leaf from the tree on her head, spun around, and then ever so slowly transformed into a young woman. She took a large stone and plopped it into the river, and when she took it out, it was topped with water plants. This she cradled into her arms, and then it took the shape of an infant. As she walked off with the stone baby, the two young men stalked after her back towards the village.

The fox women came to a house, where the old man and old woman inside welcomed her, thinking it was their daughter and grandchild. The young men watched and listened from the windows, and when the old lady came outside, they addressed her in hushed tones. “Pssst! Old Lady! That woman in your house is a fox–it’s Otonjoro!”

“Don’t be stupid!” she laughed.

“It really is! You’re being fooled by a fox. She only looks like your daughter because she’s in disguise!” they pleaded and desperately tried to gain her trust.

As their voices grew louder, the Old Man soon came outside. “What’s going on out here?”

“Oh, Dear, these two young men are trying to tell us we’re being fooled by a fox.”

“That’s absurd!” he bellowed. “How dare they insult our daughter and grandchild that way?”

“It’s true!” the young men retorted. “If you don’t believe us, throw the baby in a pot of boiling water. It’s not a baby, it’s a stone. The disguise will boil away and you’ll see we’re telling the truth.”

“Fine, if you’re so insistent, that’s what I’ll do!”

They boiled a pot of water and threw the baby in, but to the young men’s horror, the baby did not turn back into a stone. “How can this be?” they asked, incredulous and turning pale. “We were so sure–we saw it with our own eyes!”

The old couple was livid. “How dare you! Because of your accusations, our adorable grandchild is dead! We’re going to have you thrown in jail!”

Before the young pair could fumble any defense on their part, a monk heard their raised voices from outside, and then welcomed himself in to mediate. “Pardon the intrusion,” he said. “I heard what happened, and I do not think you should condemn these men to prison. Doing so will not erase their sin or bring your grandchild back to life. Instead, you should have them go to the temple and become monks, and they will spend their days in there praying for the child’s soul. What do you think of this?”

The old couple agreed, and forgave the young men. Fearful as though they had already been to hell, the young men eagerly followed the old man inside the temple, where they shaved their heads and offered a large fish at the altar. In order to atone for their sin, they began fervent prayers, praying with all their might throughout the night.

Several hours later they were startled by the sounds of people calling their names, and astonished to see that the sun had already rose. With the morning light, however, they saw that they were sitting in the middle of a grassy field rather than inside of a temple. There was only grass where the old couple’s house stood, as it had all been an illusion of Otonjoro’s making. The fish they offered, as well as the the fox they were trying to catch, was gone.

“That Otonjoro!” they growled. “She’s thoroughly had us.”

Vexing though it was, they rubbed their newly shaven heads and returned home.

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This is a short and silly little folk tale from Matsue, around Lake Shinji. Eel is one of the Seven Delicacies of Lake Shinji (宍道湖七珍), especially in summer. The birds who make an appearance in this story are also a very typical part of the Lake Shinji scenery.

Photo from Naniwa Honten, one of the more famous restaurants along the banks of Lake Shinji. Click for source.

A long, long time ago, there was an old couple, and one day, the old man said to the old lady, “I’m goin’ out to catch some eel for a tasty dinner tonight. Set up the grill while I’m gone.” With a smile, she saw him off.

He lowered his fishing line into the water and laid back and waited, relaxing at the banks of Lake Shinji. For a long time, nothing happened. A bird circled above him, cawing, “The eels are all asleep! They’re down in their holes! They’re all asleep!” However, the old man paid them no mind and continued to relax and be patient.

At last, there was a tug on the line. “Now I gotcha!” he smiled and sprang to his feet to grab hold of the pole. He pulled and tugged and soon an enormous eel sprang out of the water. “Gotcha!” he shouted as he let go of the pole with one hand to grab hold of its slimy body. As the eel wriggled around and shot itself upwards out of his grip, he grabbed on with the other hand.

Again, the eel surged upwards to try to wriggle free, and as one hand came loose, he grabbed higher.

The eel spurted itself higher. The old man grabbed higher.

Higher and higher.

The old man didn’t even notice when they had gotten so high that his feet had lifted off the ground. Soon enough, he noticed that Lake Shinji was below them, looking further and further away, smaller and smaller, as he and the eel went higher and higher.

Meanwhile, the old lady was starting to wonder what was taking him so long to return home. She grew anxious, then grew worried enough go out and look for him, but she caught no sight of him.

For days, he did not return. With a heavy heart, the old lady thought, “Perhaps he’s never coming back. But where could he have gone?” She began to cry.

At that moment, a large bird swooped down towards her and dropped a piece of paper, which floated down into her hands. Curiously, she took a peek, and saw that it was a woman’s handwriting, yet the words of her husband. It read:

Dear, I caught a big eel the other day, but while tryin’ t’ wrangle it, it shot up towards the sky. I’m still tryin’ t’ catch the dang thing!

Note: Seeing as he is preoccupied catching the eel, your husband was unable to let go and write this message, so I have taken his dictation. Signed, a heavenly maiden.

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.

Not my kirigami illustration, click for source.

This is a story with variations throughout Japan (there must be a lot of very grateful cranes). This version is from Daisen Town in Saihaku District, Tottori Prefecture. It references Matsue City and Yodoe Town, which is now a part of Yonago City.

In some far away time, at some particular place, there was a little old man and a little old lady. Every day, the old lady would pull cotton to make two bolts of fabric, which the old man would take to Yodoe to sell. With the money from the first bolt he would buy rice; with the money from the second bolt he would buy more cotton. Thus was how they subsisted.

One day, as usual, the old lady finished her work and said to her husband, “Dearie, I finished two bolts ‘gain. Please take ’em to Yodoe and exchange one for more cotton.” Also as usual, the husband set out to do just that.

On his way, he noticed a crane flapping its wings helplessly as it struggled in a trap set up at the edge of a feild. Aw, shucks, that there poor bird is gonna die like that if nobody lets it go! he thought. But if I set it free, the fellow who set that trap is gonna be left empty-handed. Aw, man, what t’ do?

Well, I got these two bolts’a fabric. If I leave one’a them for the trapper, and then he’ll be happy and the bird’ll be happy too. That’s all there is to it.

Setting half of his load down at the trap, he released the crane, and it happily burst into flight and got away.

Then the old man continued his journey to Yodoe. He was supposed to use one of the bolts to buy more cotton, but since he was now only carrying one, he passed on the cotton and only bought a meager amount of rice instead. On returning home he explained to his wife how he left the bolt to save the crane and therefore couldn’t buy cotton on which they would rely for income, and she kindly replied, “How nice. You did such’a good thing t’day.”

As they sat down to eat their humble dinner that evening, they were visited by a very pleasant-looking woman. “Please excuse me,” she said as she invited herself in.

“Yes?” they responded.

“I’ve somehow found myself all the way out here, and I’m terribly lost. Ah! I don’t know this place and it’s gotten dark, so would you mind if I spend the night with you?”

In the reply, the two said, “We’re happy t’ let you stay, but we got no more rice or anything.”

“No, I do not require rice or anything. I’ve brought some,” she said. “Would you mind lending me a pot?”

They did so, and she brought out a paper bag full of rice which she boiled, and then implored them to eat with her. They thanked her and said, “We usually make a gruel or soup outta our rice to stretch it out, it’s been so long since we ate it like this!” They were quite pleased to partake of it.

The following morning when it should have been daybreak, the sky was dark with heavy rainfall. The girl asked if she could stay with them another two or three days. “You can stay as long as you want,” said the old man and old lady.

“Then I would like you lend me your inner room for two or three days. No one else is to enter, or even so much as crack open the door!” she ordered, and then disappeared into the inner room.

Naturally, this made the old couple very curious, and they figured it wouldn’t hurt just to slide the door open a smidge and peer on her. Upon doing so they saw not a girl, but a crane sitting at the weaving machine and pulling out its own feathers, which it then wove into beautiful, sparkling fabric. “Ah! Well I’ll be! That’s the very crane that was caught in that trap!” the old man whispered to the old lady.

Three days later, the girl emerged from the room holding a bolt of fabric. “Um,” she started. “Take this bolt of fabric to a vendor in town and sell it, alright?” So saying, she immediately turned into a crane and flew away.

The old man did as she instructed and brought it to a vendor in Yodoe. “Nope, this won’t do. I can’t buy this!” the vendor refused. “There’s so way I could afford somethin’ worth this much. Try takin’ it t’ the Lord’a Matsue instead, he might be able t’ give you a good amount for it!” Therefore, the old man went out to Matsue to seek out the feudal lord.

The lord granted him an audience, looked over the cloth, and then exclaimed, “This is excellent! It’s made of crane feathers, isn’t it? I had been wanting some fabric like this, but since no one sells any, I couldn’t buy any.” The lord gave the old man a very, very great sum of money, which he happily took home.

Though they had made a meager existance on producing a small amount of fabric every day before, they could now could afford to take days off and still eat well. They were quite happy, and never had to taste such suffering ever again.

This is a similar story from Chizu, Yazu County, in Tottori Prefecture.

A long time ago, there was an old man and an old lady who struggled through a very meager life. Seeing as they could hardly even feed themselves, the old man tried picking flowers to sell, but no matter how many he picked, no one would buy them. At the end of the day, he’d always go to the Chizu bridge. There, he’d say, “I offer these to Otohime, the Princess of the Dragon Palace under the sea” and then ceremoniously chuck the flowers into the river before going home.

Every day it was the same thing. He told his wife, “Hey, Old Lady, I’m goin’ out to try to sell flowers again,” and when he couldn’t sell any, he’d drop them in the river, saying, “I offer these to Otohime, the Princess of the Dragon Palace under the sea.” It looked like they would float on forever, but one day they flowers sunk instead. Upon returning home, he told his wife, “I haven’t been able t’ sell a single flower. Aw, well, I guess I’ll just keep offerin’ ’em to the Princess of the Dragon Palace.”

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. A beautiful, young girl with eyes full of sympathy had come to pay a visit, holding the flowers. “Today, the lovely flowers you tried to send to the Dragon Palace wound up at my doorstep instead. I’d like to thank you very much for them. I told the Dragon King about you, and he said to bring you along to pay a visit to the Dragon Palace. Would you like me to take you?”

“Me? Go t’ the Dragon Palace? Well, I guess I’m not doin’ anything else,” he replied, and agreed to go along. She brought him to the ocean’s edge, where a giant turtle was waiting. She instructed him to ride on the turtle’s back, and the turtle told him to close his eyes. Just as soon as he did so, they had arrived at the Dragon Palace.

Upon entering the palace, he saw feasts prepared in every room, and he was treated to the finest of hospitality. The old man was quite enjoying himself, when the young girl whispered to him, “When Miss Otohime asks what she should give you, you should reply, ‘I don’t want anything, just a little boy with a runny nose will do.'”

Almost immediately afterward, Otohime said, “Now, what shall I bestoy on you as a parting gift?”

It seems the old man did indeed reply, “Ahh, I don’t really want anything, just a lil’ boy with a runny nose will do.”

“Very well,” replied Otohime. “That is what I shall give you.”

And that she did. He was a filthy little ragamuffin with a horrid runny nose, but the old man brought him home anyway. When they said to him, “Hey, Runny-Nose Boy, we got no more rice,” the boy made infinite amounts of rice appear. “How ’bout sake? Got any sake?” they’d ask, and he’d give them sake. Whatever they asked him for, he provided. When they said, “We want money!” the floor was covered in piles of gold coins.

Little by little, their lot in life improved and they lived quite comfortably. Their little old hut of a home could no longer suit them, so they told the boy they wanted a fancy dwelling place. Once that appeared, they even had use for servants, which the boy with the runny nose also provided. This was how they spent their days.

While this was all well and good, wherever the increasingly selfish old couple went, the boy with the runny nose was right at their side, and his presence was downright irritating. “What are people gonna think of us if we always have that nasty little brat around?” asked the old lady. They tried asking him to hold his runny nose shut, or at least to wipe his face, but it was no use.

At last, they said, “Just go away somewhere!”

“Alright, I’ll go away somewhere,” the boy with the runny nose replied, and he left.

Everything they had received from the boy rapidly disappeared–the rice, the sake, the money, even their fancy house turned back into an old hut.

It suited them perfectly.

This is a story from around Daisen.

Daisen

Once there were two old couples who lived in a small, poor village. The first old man and his old wife lived simply and honestly, and the other old man and his wife were notoriously stubborn and lazy.

One day the first old man went out to chop grass as usual and began to polish his sickle, when he slipped. The old woman heard a terrible noise and feared her husband had fallen down the well, and sure enough, he had. “My dear! Are you alright?” she called down to him.

“I’m fine, but I can’t get out! Send down a rope!”

She lowered a rope down, which he tied to his waist, and she pulled as hard as she could. He soon came up with pockets full of gold coins. The village children all came out to see what the commotion was about, and the old couple shared the fortune with the children. They all lived happily ever after.

The lazy old couple, however, saw what happened and were filled with jealousy. “We could get a fortune that way too,” said the husband.

“Sure, they could get a fortune that way. That old man stays in shape because he goes out early every morning to cut the grass, but I just have a cunning good-for-nothing for a husband.”

“Fine, you want me to cut grass? I’ll go cut grass!” the old man barked back, then picked up a sickle to start sharpening it. He also fell down the well, and shouted to his wife, “Alright, I fell! Now lower a rope!”

She did do, and he tied it on. She pulled him up as fast as possible, but his pockets were empty and he upon emerging his hit his head.

The moral of the story–although you could glean many from it–is not to imitate others.

This is a story from Chizu, Yazu County, in Tottori Prefecture.

A long time ago, there was an old man and an old lady who struggled through a very meager life. Everyday the old man went out to collect firewood and sell it and then use the money to buy rice. He wasn’t always able to sell it, though. When he had anything leftover, he would take it to the Chizu bridge. There, he’d say, “I offer this to Otohime, the Princess of the Dragon Palace under the sea” and then ceremoniously chuck the wood into the river before going home.

One day as the old man was about to head home, someone called out to him. “Excuse me, sir!” the stranger said. “I am a servant of Otohime in the Dragon Palace, and she has sent me here today. We had been having terrible problems getting wood for the castle, so you constant gifts of firewood helped us quite a bit. As thanks, Otohime told me to give this to you.” So saying, he pulled a gavel from his sleeve.

“A gavel?”

“Yes. Say what you want, then strike the gavel, and it will make anything for you. However, it has its limits–you can only use it three times.” The stranger then handed it to the old man, and immediately disappeared.

As the old man was taking the gavel home, he tripped and broke his sandal. Sighing, he decided to give the gavel a try. “One sandal,” he said, then struck the ground with the gavel, and immediately a wonderful sandal appeared. Wow! This really does work! he thought as he excitedly put on the sandal. But I can only use it three times. What should the other two things be?

On his way home, he noticed how dull and hard to use his axe had become, so he decided to try the gavel again. “One axe,” he said and struck the gavel, and there appeared a golden axe. Once again quite impressed, he took the golden axe home.

Upon his return, he asked his wife, “Old Lady, what’s the one thing we need?”

The old lady replied, “Old Man, we don’t have any rice to eat!”

“Then we should ask for rice!” he exclaimed, and raising the gavel he said, “Rice, a ton of it, Old Lady!” and then struck the ground.

Once he did so, a rather beautiful old woman appeared in front of them.

Oh no, thought the old man. There’s not even enough rice for my own Old Lady and I to eat, let alone to let this woman eat! Now what have I done?

At that moment, the beautiful lady sat straight up, and a couple grains of rice dripped out of her nose. Just as the old man and the old lady pondered how strange that was, another grain dripped out of the woman’s nose. Then another. And another. And another. And another.

Quite soon the grains of rice were spilling all across the floor and filling up the room. When it looked like it had accumulated to about a ton, the beautiful woman seemed to melt into the pile of rice, and disappeared. Given the wording of the old man’s request, she might have originally been rice herself.