Enjoying Otogi Zoshi with the Help of Synopsis and Illustrations, Second Story ; Monokusa Taro

** Volume 1 **

        Long ago, in a village called Atarashi, in the district of Chikushi in Shinano province, there lived a rather odd man named Monokusa Taro Hijikasu, or Lazybones Taro Hijikasu. The reason why he was called so was, of course, because he was a very lazy man indeed.

        His house was made of just four bamboo poles on which some straw mats had been thrown. Thus, he was covered in grime, and the shabby place crawled with lice and fleas. Taro knew no trade, nor did he till fields for a living. All day long he just lay idle doing nothing at all.

[Lazybones Taro wastes his days away dreaming]
[Lazybones Taro wastes his days away dreaming]


        One day, a passerby gave Taro five rice cakes. He ate four out of them at once. Now there was only one left. He decided to put it away safely for later. But while he lay playing around with it afterwards, the fifth cake dropped from his hands and rolled out onto the road.

Taro felt too lazy to pick it up. "It is too much trouble," he thought. "Well, I guess I could get some passerby to pick it up and hand it back to me."
        He lay like that for three days, shooing away with a long bamboo pole the dogs and birds that came to nibble at the cake, all the while waiting for someone to pass by and pick up the cake for him. At last Saemon no Jo Nobuyori, an agent in charge of a lord's manor, came riding by.

[A lord's agent and his followers coming to in front of Taro's house]
[A lord's agent and his followers coming to in front of Taro's house]


        Taro cried out to the lord's agent:
"Hello there! Please bring me that rice cake lying there on the road!"
The lord's agent ignored him and continued on his way. Taro did not give up. Instead, he called out again:
"All I asked was that you get off your horse and pick that rice cake up for me. How did a lazy man like you ever become a lord's agent?"
The lord's agent stopped, amazed, and asked:
"So you are the infamous Lazybones Taro. What do you do for a living?"
"Well, I wait here for people to bring me food," Taro answered.
"Would you like to become a farmer or shopkeeper and earn your own living? I will help you," offered the lord's agent.
"No, thank you. I don't care to work. It's too much trouble," came Taro's reply.
Upon hearing this, the lord's agent gave the following order within the territory:
"From this day forth, Lazybones Taro is to be given rice and sake three times every day. Those who disobey my command will be thrown out from my territory."
        The locals thought this was absurd but, there being little they could do about it, nevertheless dutifully brought Taro his rice and sake every day from that day on.


[Taro sets off on the road to Kyoto]
[Taro sets off on the road to Kyoto]

        Thus things continued peacefully until the spring of the third year from that day. The lord of Shinano province gave an order to transfer a worker from Atarashi village to the imperial capital of Kyoto. When the time came to decide which man was to be sent, Taro's name began to make rounds. Of course, this was also a way for the villagers to rid themselves of a lazy nuisance of a man. And so they gathered around and started to cajole him into taking on the work:

"Taro, will you not go to the capital and fulfill this duty? We are asking this entirely for your own good. A man, as you know, only becomes a real man once he takes a wife. If you go up to Kyoto, you may just find yourself becoming a real man."
On hearing these words, Taro wasted no further time in making up his mind. "If that be the case," he said, "I am ready to be the one. Send me to the capital soon!"
        And so it happened that a little later, Taro set off alone on the road to Kyoto.


        Needless to say, the people of Kyoto were taken aback when they saw Taro, covered with dirt. All the same, Taro did his work diligently, and his period of service was extended.
        Even so, by and by the time to return Shinano began to draw near. Taro had yet to meet a woman whom he could propose marriage to.
Troubled by this, he asked the host in his lodge for advice.
"Well," advised the host seriously, "You could always try what one may call 'fishing out' a lady of your choice."
"What on earth does that mean?" asked a puzzled Taro.
"It's quite simple, actually," said the host.
"Keep an eye open for women who ride neither in palanquins nor carriages, and are unaccompanied by a man. When you see one who takes your fancy, just latch on and don't let go till she agrees! The Kiyomizu Temple with its crowds may be a good place to start."

        So off Taro went to the Kiyomizu Temple in high spirits. He had a rope around his waist, wore straw sandals and carried a cane, while still wearing the same set of filthy clothes that he had not washed once since his days in Shinano. Thus Taro waited expectantly with open arms at the temple gates. Truth be told, he made for a quite appalling sight.

[Taro stands firm with his feet set apart at the gates of Kiyomizu Temple]
[Taro stands firm with his feet set apart at the gates of Kiyomizu Temple]

        And so Taro measured up all the women who came to the temple that day, and indeed stood waiting there till dusk, when suddenly his eyes fell upon a young lady, or rather a girl, of seventeen or eighteen. Her beauty was exquisite. She was accompanied by another beautiful young lady of her maidservant.
"Yes, I have finally found my bride-to-be. Come into my arms. Let me embrace you!"
        Taro spread his arms out wide and waited for her coming.
        The young lady, of course, was frightened to see him and went out of her way to get around him. But Taro followed after her in his attempt to stop her escaping. When he finally caught up, he pressed his grimy face into her woven hat and hugged her waist tight.

[Taro embraces the young lady]
[Taro embraces the young lady]


        Desperate to get away, the young lady threw a riddle for Taro to solve, but he solved it in no time. Finally she said:
"People may be watching. Please come to my house."
"Where is it that you live?" asked Taro.
"It may be called the 'Matsu no Moto,' or 'under a pine tree'," she answered evasively.
"It is light under a torch of pinewood ... so that must mean you live in Akashi, or 'being light'."
        Trapped and desperate to flee, the young girl now threw the following poem-riddle for Taro to solve:
"Should you truly care for me, Ask then your way to my home, the home that welcomes you with a gate of flaming purple-mandarin orange blossoms."
        As Taro tried to figure this out, she grabbed her chance and fled away barefoot.
"Where are you going?" said Taro, and ran after her.

** Volume 2 **

        But the girl ran away with all her strength. She knew the roads like the back of her hand, and soon Taro was left trailing far behind. He stomped his foot in anger, but there was little he could do now.

[Taro peeps in from under the porch towards his ladylove]
[Taro peeps in from under the porch towards his ladylove]

        Remembering the verse that spoke of the house with "flaming purple-mandarin orange blossoms,"Taro decided to enquire further at a samurai dokoro where samurai warriors were working for noble families.
"Well, I do remember there being a gate covered with purple-mandarin orange blossoms at a house of Buzen no Kami located at the far side of Shichijo district. Why don't you visit and ask there?"
said the man there in reply to Taro's question. Taro set off in the direction of Shichijo district, and sure enough, he soon reached a house that matched that very description. But there was no sign of the young girl he had hoped to find. Taro hid under the porch and watched.

        In truth, his ladylove was a lady-in-waiting of high rank called Jiju no Tsubone. That evening, after finishing the day's duty, she called her maid Nadeshiko and said:
: "The moon is not out yet, is it? Whatever could have happened to that man we came across today at the Kiyomizu Temple? It is a late hour now. I would have to give up my life if he came here ... "
"Hush, my lady," warned the maid. "You do know the saying 'Speak of the devil and the devil appears.' I beg you to not speak of that incident."

        Taro, who was still hiding under the porch, was thrilled to hear her voice.
He jumped out of his hiding place onto the porch and announced triumphantly:
"It is for you alone that I have borne all the torment!"
The lady was beside herself with fear. She fled to her quarters, where she cursed her fate for having such an admirer.


[Taro interprets the meaning of the food]
[Taro interprets the meaning of the food]

        There were voices shouting among the guards outside.
        The girl thought to herself:
"A woman is considered sinful by mere virtue of being born. I dare not think what curse would afflict me if that man were to be killed tonight by the guards because of me. Let me give him shelter for tonight alone, and tomorrow morning I shall coax him into getting rid of him somehow."
She provided an old tatami mat for him.

        Taro lay down on the mat, but pangs of hunger tormented him. The young lady gave him a basket of fresh fruits, salt and a knife besides. Taro looked at the contents and thought:
"Ah--you have given me an array of fruits together in one basket. Dare I think it means "Let us come together"? This kuri chestnut here--might it be that it is telling me to avoid kurigoto--repeating what we already know? And the pear or nashi--does it mean that of a husband or a lover you, dear lady, shall know nashi, or nought? And I see that you have given me salt with the persimmons, or kaki as they are called. How may I dare interpret that, for in my homeland of Tsu the kaki oysters have the taste of salt even before they grow large."

        Hearing these words, the young lady was amazed to see for the first time the depth of this man standing before her, whose intelligence was cloaked in a shabby outward appearance. She tested his wit again, handing him ten sheets of paper.
Taro promptly wrote down the following tanka poem:
  "When you hand me a kami--a piece of paper, or God,
         Dare I think you accord me the position of the holy kami spirit, or shrine?"

        The girl gave in, and brought out a grand set of clothes for Taro. He was thrilled, for never in his life had he worn such nice clothes as a okuchi bakama and a hitatare. The maid helped him dress properly as a gentleman of high rank, tucked his dirty and lousy hair inside the yeboshi cap, and took him back to where the young lady waited.
        Taro had never walked in such squeaky--clean corridors. On his way to the room he slipped many times, and promptly slipped and fell down upon reaching the young lady's room. Worse still, he landed right on top of the lady's prized koto, or Japanese harp, which she so loved to play. She composed the first half of a tanka poem tearfully:
  "There is no solace for me
          Now that my prized koto is broken."
And Taro gave the second half of the tanka with witty reply:
  "I have no words of solace
          For kotowari (the breaking of a koto) is what happened to your instrument."

        The young lady was moved to hear these words, and believing that there was a bond she shared with this man from a previous lifetime, she finally exchanged marriage bows with Taro.

[Taro takes his wedding vows]
[Taro takes his wedding vows]


[Taro meets the Emperor]
[Taro meets the Emperor]

        And so the lady put two maids in the service of Taro, and for seven days they scrubbed and washed him clean. And lo and behold, on the seventh day Taro shone handsome and clean. His appearance improved by the day after that. His tanka and renga poem were unparalleled in style, and even his posture was that of a true nobleman.

        By and by word of his reputation reached the Emperor himself, who summoned him to the palace. Taro recited some of his brilliant tanka there.

The Emperor was moved, and asked Taro of his family lineage, to which Taro replied that he had no family or ancestors.

        The matter was taken up with the daimoku, or deputy lord, of Shinano, whose investigations revealed a document. When this was read out, to everyone's surprise, it was found that Taro was, in fact, the child of a Nii no Chujo, the second son of Emperor Ninmyo, who had been exiled to the province of Shinano and who was blessed with the birth of Taro after offering many prayers to a tathagata, a person who has attained Buddhahood, at the temple of Zenkoji.
        The Emperor then appointed Taro as the Chujo of Shinano province. Taro returned with his wife to his home village of Atarashi.
        This time around, he lived the rest of his life in ease in a palatial home. Blessed with many children, Taro lived to be a hundred and twenty years old, with many vassals waiting on him.

        After their deaths, Taro and his wife took the form of Daimyojin of Otaga and Gongen of Asai, the gods of love, and granted the wishes of lovers all over the land. And thus ends their happy story.

[People visiting Otaga Myojin shrine]
[People visiting Otaga Myojin shrine]

* As the first volume of the story was missing from this work, it was supplemented by the contents of Shibukawa Ban Otogi Bunko Collection (call number 4/40/O 1), which is believed to contain a similar story with the missing part.

Copyright 2001. Kyoto University Library