Thursday, November 15, 2012

Japanese Folktales: The Mysterious Tama-Geta

I'm working on my write-up of Sapporo and my kimono classes, but in the meanwhile... :)

"Japanese Folktales" is a new series born of my love for folktales and my ongoing practice with the Japanese language. Every now and then I'll post my original translation of a folktale I myself haven't seen available in English yet. The first is a tale about greed and odd footwear!

The Mysterious Tama-Geta

Note: Geta are casual wooden sandals, and "tama" ("round" or "jewel") type geta are unique-looking ones with a rounded-off single peg on the bottom of each sandal, as you can see in the picture on the right. They're meant to be worn for balancing practice, not for actual travel.

Long ago, a boy named Sasuke lived together with his mother. One day, his mother fell gravely ill but they didn’t have enough money for a doctor.

“If this keeps up, she’s going to die! I’ll go to rich Old Man Gonzou and borrow some money,” Sasuke thought to himself. And with that, Sasuke set out to visit the old man.

Upon hearing what Sasuke wanted, Old Man Gonzou shouted, “What? You say you want to borrow money? If you want to borrow any, you’ll have to plow my fields!”

Wanting to help his mother as quickly as he could, Sasuke did his best and was able to plow the fields in one day. But Old Man Gonzou shouted, “Huh! Well, I’m still not loaning you money. Next, you’ll need to carry a lot of water out to the fields by bucket!”

The following day, Sasuke set about carrying the water. But he was given a bucket with a small hole in it, so that no matter how much he tried he was never able to bring enough water all the way to the fields. “You lazy boy! I’m not loaning you any money. Go home!” And with that the old man sent Sasuke away.

The rejected boy trudged wearily away and some time later came to a Shinto shrine. “I’m so hungry. I can’t walk anymore. What should I do, I wonder?” He sat down, and started dozing off.

“Clack clack! Clack clack!” Was he dreaming? The sound of someone walking on tama-geta grew closer, and an old man with a kind face came into view.

“Look, it’s Sasuke, the boy who’s worried about his mother! To you I give these tama-geta. When you wear them, if you fall down a gold coin will appear. But every time you fall down, you’ll get a little shorter. So don’t overdo it falling down!”

Sasuke nervously answered, “Y-Y-Yes. Thank you very much!” And the man disappeared with a poof.

“Huh? Was that a dream? But the sandals are still here!” He timidly tried putting the sandals on, but they were tama-geta after all, and so he ended up falling over with a thump when he tried to stand.

“Ow, ow ow!” he said, and Clink! went the sound of a dropped coin.

“It’s a gold coin!” Sasuke was overjoyed. With the gold coin in hand, he hurried to the doctor. After a visit from the doctor, his mother quickly got better. Not wanting to abuse the power of these strange tama-geta, they put them away and went back to their daily lives and hard work.

A while later, Old Man Gonzou came around to see how Sasuke and his mother were doing. Peeking in, he saw them enjoying a bountiful meal. “Hey, hey! How did you two afford this? So you came to my house to borrow money even though you had this kind of money in the first place?”

“Now, now, calm down. There’s a reason for this!” And Sasuke explained the story of the tama-geta.

“What? Tama-geta that give gold coins? Amazing! But something like that should be owned by a rich man like me, not paupers like you. I’ll take them now.” And Old Man Gonzou returned home with them.

Upon returning, he immediately laid out a large cloth in his house so as not to dirty the floor. Putting on the tama-geta, he stood atop the cloth. “Heh, heh, heh. First, one fall!” he said, and fell over with a thump.

Clink! A gold coin appeared. “Oh! It’s the real thing!” he said.

And so, after that he began to sing: “Fall down, fall down! Gold coins for me! Clink, clink! Clink, clink! Gold coins for me!” Old Man Gonzou excitedly fell down again and again.

“Oh! So many gold coins! I’ll make a pile bigger than me! I’ll be the richest man in Japan!” He didn’t notice that every time he fell down he was getting a little smaller.

Meanwhile, Sasuke remembered that he had forgotten to tell the old man about how you’d get smaller each time you fell down. In a panic, he hurried to Old Man Gonzou's home.

From the closed-up house he could hear clinking sounds. “Old man! Old man!” he called, but there was no reply. He tried as hard as he could to open the door, and it finally opened, clinking gold coins streaming out.

“Oh no! Mr. Gonzou! Where are you?” Pushing aside the coins he entered the house, and found the old man, now the size of a grasshopper, next to a mountain of gold coins. But Old Man Gonzou was still falling and standing, falling and standing, coins appearing one after another.

Finally, when the old man had shrunk to the size of a tiny insect, he flew away and was never seen again.

After that, Sasuke took over Old Man Gonzou’s house and became a millionaire, spending his life with his mother in happiness.

Greed isn’t a good thing, is it?

The End 

Translation © 2012 The Kimono Lady
The original Japanese tale: 不思議な玉下駄

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