Sentimental Tales from Tama River

Main Reference: Tama River Folktales by Sakuhira Ishii, Arimine Shoten Publishing, 1976

The Mysterious Sake Jug

I think this is a mix of an old story in which Kanon-sama uses a mysterious sake jug and influence from Aladdin’s lamp. Zack Davisson, who by the way maintains an excellent site which is a kind of evil time trap if you like monsters, also translated a couple here. It appears to be a common motif.

 One day, a merchant took pity on an old man and allowed him to set up his wares in front of his shop.  The merchant believed the old man had nothing but an old sake jug, and could not interfere much with his own business anyways. But, to the merchant’s astonishment, the old sake jug somehow contained an innumerable amount of wares. Eventually, the merchant asked the old man where he could buy such an amazing sake jug. The old man said this is the only such jug in the world, but since the merchant is a good man with a good reputation, he would give it to him. The merchant asked the sake jug to show him the country of Japan. Suddenly, the merchant became as smoke and traveled like the wind to Kyoto and all over Japan. Finally, the merchant visited a place on the Tama River called Hachioji. He thought it was so beautiful it was like a fairytale. He thought to himself that he could easily spend the rest of his life there. Suddenly, a large house appeared and he found his entire family inside waiting for him. The merchant was very happy and decided to keep the sake jug as a hallowed treasure in his home.

The Tama River Flea Market

Every year on the 15/16 of December and January, there is a flea market in Setagaya. This story is about that flea market.

A man who seems to have come from the mountains sets up a booth at the flea market and says he sells dreams. As a demonstration he offers one for free to an elderly woman in the crowd. The elderly woman wants to see her dead son, so he takes some Buddhist prayer beads and chants. The woman sees her son again and begins to cry tears of joy. The onlookers are astonished and terrified and hurry away.

The Value of One Mon

monOne year there was a terrible flood in Kinuta village. Many people were left homeless and their rice fields were destroyed. A rich man owned a large estate above the river flats, and he was unharmed by the flood. Instead of taking pity on the impoverished populace, he lent them money and food at high interest rates. One night a beggar child knocked on his door and begged for food. The rich man chased the child away as though it were a stray dog.

That night, a terrible fire engulfed the rich man’s home. None of the villagers came to help him. As he stood now penniless among the ashes, the beggar child suddenly appeared and held out a single mon to the rich man. The man was shocked at the child’s kindness and began to cry tears of regret for his past cruelties. From that day, the man worked very hard and became a good man. The beggar child disappeared and was never seen again.

Sunset on Tama River

This is a kind of “repay one’s debt” (恩返し) story. There are a lot of them about fish, called Sakana no Ongaeshi. In most of the stories, a kind man releases a fish, or helps a fish and then a young woman comes to his house and is his wife for awhile. But they always return to the water eventually. This story is a little different, but I think it’s a variation on that theme.
(Links in Japanese: an example from Akita-ken; an example from Ishikawa-ken)

Kinuta village and Kuji village are on opposing sides of the Tama River. There used to only be two bridges, one in Inadazutsumi, and one in Futago. This story is about a ferryman who used to ferry people between the villages. Actually, I live in Inadazutsumi and work in Kinuta, so I am very fond of this story 😀 I wish I were a salty old ferryman on the Tama River. I would sleep all day in my boat under a canopy and smoke my pipe and drink my sake and talk to the goddam fish and it would be awesome. ANYWAYS

An old man used to ferry people across the Tama River between Kuji and Kinuta village. Some days he had no customers at all and would just smoke his pipe and nap all day. On one such day, the sun had set and he was headed home. He stopped for awhile and fell asleep. He awoke to see a young woman standing near him. She told him she was a fish spirit and had come to ask him to help save her husband. Her husband had swallowed a fishhook and was in great pain. They hoped the kind ferryman they watched each day on the river would help them.

The old man didn’t like to see her sad, so he agreed to go with her and do what he could. She took him deep under the water, but he had no trouble breathing. She brought him to her husband’s bedside and peering in his throat, the old man could see blood welling up around the hook. He took the curved end of his pipe and used it to remove the fishhook. The fish and his wife were very happy and returned the ferryman to land. From that day on, a great black carp and a great red carp followed the ferryman’s ferry back and forth and protected him from harm.

This story is great! Because it not only covers where I live and work, but it also has (a) animal spirits that take on human form without magic and (b) animals that guard someone as they travel in return for helping them (送り / 恩返し). These two motifs are often found in Japanese folktales, so I’m delighted to have a local version of both.

ワーイッ \( ̄ー\)(/ー ̄)/ワーイッ

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