Enjoying Otogi Zoshi with the Help of Synopsis and Illustrations, Sixth Story ; Owl
Long, long ago, at the bottom of Kamewari Hill in Kaga Province, there lived an owl. He was 83 years old.
One day, by chance, Owl fell in love. He called on Crow Kurozaemon and Egret Shinbe for a talk.
"You know what? The other day during the orchestra party at Matsuyamadori House, I caught a glimpse of Princess Bullfinch playing the koto, and it was love at first sight. Now she's all I think about day in, day out. Could you somehow deliver a love letter to her for me?"
Upon hearing this, Kurozaemon and Shinbe spoke in unison.
"Sir Eagle, king of the birds, has been secretly in love with that Princess Bullfinch since she was seven or eight. But I heard Princess Bullfinch has been paying no attention to him. And she is hardly going to reply if fellows like us take her the letter. Rather than us, you should ask Titmouse Gosaku to take the letter. Perhaps that way at least you will get some kind of reply, because they were childhood friends."
Indeed, thought Owl, and off he went to visit Titmouse Gosaku.
"Titmouse, you might think I am decrepit and foolish, but will you deliver a letter to Princess Bullfinch for me?"
"What? You say you are sending a letter to Princess Bullfinch, who the mighty Eagle pines for? Hmmm. But poor Mr. Owl, I shall accept your errand."
Pleased, Owl set out to write a detailed letter.
"From my first glimpse of you, my heart has been churning. So much that I thought I might die, but my love for you will not die.
Even if I could count all the leaves of the trees of the deep mountain forests, the stars in the sky, the waves on the ocean and the grains of sand on the beach, I still could not know how much love I feel for you. Not the flowers of spring, nor moon of autumn, not Ono no Komachi nor Yang Kuei-fei can match your beauty.
Should Sir Eagle ever hear that I love you, dying at his hands would not pain me.
I am giving you this letter so that you know my love for you. It is said that when you shelter from the rain with another under the same tree, you share a karmic connection from many lives past. Does not Buddha take pity on those whose love is hopeless? Please, oh please reply."
Owl entrusted this letter to Titmouse Gosaku.
Then, Owl prayed to Buddha and the deities. He took particular care to pray to the Healing Buddha of the Imperial mausoleum.
"I place my faith in Healing Buddha. May my love letter reach Princess Bullfinch unhindered, and may the reply be a good one," he prayed, touching his head to the ground.
"If this prayer is answered, I shall build you a temple studded with silver and gold."
Meanwhile, Titmouse Gosaku went out to Princess Billfinch's mansion with the love letter from Owl. After they had exchanged trivial gossip as they always did, Gosaku came to the point.
"In truth, the only reason I am visiting is because I am on an errand for Mr. Owl of Kamewari Hill. Mr. Owl is in love with you. He could bear it no longer and entrusted me with this letter,"
he said, and he gave her the letter.
But Princess Bullfinch did not accept the letter. She threw it back at Titmouse.
"How can you give back the letter Mr. Owl has entrusted to me?"
"Listen to me carefully,"
Princess Bullfinch replied.
"For many years I have received letters from the mighty Sir Eagle, and not once have I given him a reply. Thus, even though you are my childhood friend, allowing you even a meager reply to your errand will surely annoy Sir Eagle. Please do not let anyone know of this,"
and she wrote her reply.
"I was happy to read your letter. For someone as yourself, who is related to God Kazuraki, to be concerned with such a worthless girl as me, I am most grateful. Even as I say this, I have little association with you in this world. When we shall pass away and move to the next world, and when the heavens bloom with flowers and the earth bears fruits, let us meet in the Western Paradise of Amida Buddha."
Owl received the letter from Titmouse and hurried to open it, only to find a casual reply. Ashamed, Titmouse went home crestfallen.
Disappointed Owl rested on a pillow of tree leaves. As he dozed, the Healing Buddha of the Imperial mausoleum appeared in a dream.
"I am the Healing Buddha of the Imperial mausoleum. Princess Bullfinch wrote you a good reply, but you do not know and you are miserable. That is why I have come.
'After passing away and moving to the next world' is as 'after the passage of tonight, the next night will come', in other words, tomorrow night; 'the heavens will bloom with flowers' as the moon and stars come out in the sky, 'the earth will bear fruits' is to say that a dim light will appear, and 'the Western Paradise of Amida Buddha' means that the Amida Hall in the westerly direction. In other words, her reply is that you should meet her when the moon comes out at the Amida Hall tomorrow night."
Owl awoke with a start, dressed quickly and headed for Amida Hall.
He waited all night for Princess Bullfinch at Amida Hall. But in the middle of the night, he got drowsy and began to doze. Just at that instant, Princess Bullfinch arrived wearing a juni-hitoe, the ceremonial robe of a Japanese court lady and accompanied by a nanny. When she looked, she saw that Owl was sleeping. Princess Bullfinch woke Owl and recited a tanka poem.
Omofutowa Tagaitsuwarino Usotokashi Omohanebakoso Madoromizosuru
"You were lying when you said that you were in love with me. You do not like me, and that is why you are sleeping."
Upon hearing this Owl chanted back with his own tanka:
Yoiwamachi Yonakawaurami Akatsukiwa Yumeniyaminto Madoromizosuru
"I waited the whole early evening for you, and when you did not come, in the middle of the night I dozed off chagrined yet hoping we might meet at daybreak and perhaps in a dream."
Princess Bullfinch's mood improved when she heard the poem, and she became united with Owl.
"I have always been in love with you, and it has been so difficult, but meeting you like this is beyond my wildest dreams," said Owl.
"I heard rumors about you, but I did not dream that we could really meet like this. I would like to talk a while, but I am here secretly and I must go home now," said Princess Bullfinch.
"If you love me, please stay a while longer."
"No, I shall go. Please, never tell anyone about tonight."
With that, Princess Bullfinch hurried back to her home.
Nevertheless, even though they tried to hide it, the rumor that Princess Bullfinch had devoted herself to Owl spread like wildfire among the birds. All the birds who loved Princess Bullfinch were deeply saddened.
Meanwhile, the rumor eventually reached the ears of Sir Eagle. Sir Eagle flew into a rage and dispatched an assassin to get Owl. However, Owl hid quickly behind a tree, escaping harm. Sir Eagle could not contain his rage and incredibly, killed Princess Bullfinch instead.
When Owl heard this, he wept so miserably that no one could bear to look at him. He tried to commit hara-kiri to follow in the footsteps of Princess Bullfinch, but Owl's cousin, Horned Owl Kisuke, stopped him.
"Instead of cutting your stomach, please pray to Buddha for the repose of Princess Bullfinch's soul."
Convinced, Owl stopped thinking about killing himself.
He then decided to call an Azusa no Miko, a woman who can call forth the spirits of the dead, to call forth the spirit of Princess Bullfinch. The words of Princess Bullfinch soon came through the Miko.
"I did not even dream that my fate with you would end so soon in this world. Now that we are living in separate worlds like this, the promise that we made to be together for eternity is useless.
I have as many things I want to talk about with you as the mountains are high and the ocean is deep, I could probably never say everything I want to say. The attachments and obsessions of the world are a distraction and a block for me to move into the next world.
Furthermore, those who have been struck down by an arrow must experience pain twelve times, six times during the day and six times during the night. Please try to imagine that pain.
I always regret our parting, but I sneaked past the King of Hell to come here and soon I must go back. This time, I am going to hurry to the Paradise of Amida Buddha."
With that, the spirit of Princess Bullfinch returned.
After that Owl's sorrow only deepened. But eventually, he had his head shaved and went up Koya Mountain, entering the priesthood at an inner sanctuary. He started out from Kumano on a journey of many countries, praying to Buddha for the repose of Princess Bullfinch. Since Owl felt that it was all for his dear Princess Bullfinch, nothing was too difficult for him.
** The End **
Copyright 2001. Kyoto University Library