Tales from an Elderly Woman from Ome

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

Evidently, the author of the book above found a very old woman in a tea shop in the 1970s and got the following tales from her. I am particularly fond of the second story. I think it could have universal appeal?

The Laughing Tengu天狗_国際日本文化研究センター

A young wood cutter went into the woods around Mt. Mitake to get wood. After eating lunch, he lied down for a nap. As he was about to drift off a tengu appeared in geta shoes using a giant leaf for a fan. The tengu laughed at the man and then faded away. This happened 3 times. The young man went to Mitake Shrine to be purified (exorcised). The priest performed the ceremony and the man never saw the tengu again.

This story appears on website of Ome folktales. In that version, the Tengu is appearing because it doesn’t want the wood cutter to cut down a specific large cedar tree. The Shinto priest explains this to the wood cutter and ties a Shimenawa (sacred rope) around the tree and the Tengu stops appearing.

The Tale of the Tama River Raccoon Dog

A kind old man lived in a village near Mt. Ome. He went into the woods near the mountain to collect firewood. After loading the wood into a makeshift sled, a raccoon dog (tanuki) appeared and helped push the load down the mountain. The old man told his neighbor this story. His neighbor was unkind and selfish. He also went to the woods and filled a large cart as full as he could. He called for the tanuki to come help him.

The tanuki appeared and pretended to be pushing the cart, but actually he set it on fire. The old man caught on fire and his testicles were burned so badly, they swelled to the same size as 8 tatami mats (*a tanuki’s testicles are said to be the same size as 8 tatami mats). The good neighbor took pity on the burned old man and came to apply medicine to his testicles.

But after the medicine was applied, the tanuki caused the medicine to become hot red pepper paste. The mean old man cried out in pain.

The End.

This is probably a variation on Kachi Kachi Yama, in some versions of which, the white rabbit rubs “medicine” on the Tanuki’s burned back that is actually hot red pepper paste.

The Tale of Boar-Hunter (Inoshishi-tora-san)

There once lived a great hunter, around the year 1800, named Inoshishi-tora-san. One winter day he was hunting on snow-covered Mt. Miyake. But he couldn’t find anything to catch. He was getting frustrated when he saw a lone wolf standing in a cemetery. Inoshishi-tora-san knew that killing anything in the cemetery was forbidden, but he desperately wanted to catch something. So he aimed his gun at the wolf and fired. He thought the bullet made a clean kill, but suddenly all the stones in the cemetery turned into wolves and began to chase him.

The wolves caused such a commotion that the priests at Miyake Shrine heard it. They prayed to the kami that the wolves’ anger could be appeased. The wolves disappeared, but Inoshihi-tora-san was never seen again.

This story also appears on the Ome folktale website, but with a slightly different ending. Inoshishitora-san lives and buries the wolf. The priests tell him that the wolf is a guardian kami of the mountain and should never be harmed.

The Tale of the Gonza Pool Kappa

There is a deep pool in Ome called Gonza Pool. It is called this because a person named Gonza once drowned himself in this pool. It’s as big as a sports field and the water is always dark and swirling. Long ago, the fishermen in this area suddenly stopped being able to catch any fish. At that time, it was also used as a place where stable hands washed horses. One night after washing the horses at Gonza Pool and bringing them back to the stable, the stable hands noticed that the horses were making no noise, unlike their usual ruckus. So they went into the stable and found a kappa in an overturned bucket. Evidently, the kappa had been caught up in one of the horse’s manes as it had been washed.

They called for the sword master who asked the kappa why it was in the Gonza Pool. The kappa explained it was from Haijima no Ryu and had come to Gonza Pool to eat the delicious fish there. The stable hands realized that was the reason why the fishermen were no longer able to catch fish there. The sword master made the kappa promise to return to Haijima. The kappa agreed and wrote his promise with the sword master’s brush. Oddly, the educated sword master could not read the kappa’s writing, but the illiterate stable hands could. After the kappa left, the fish returned to Gonza Pool and everyone was happy again.

This story is the same on the Ome folktale website.

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