Enjoying Otogi Zoshi with the Help of Synopsis and Illustrations, First Story ; The Tale of Tamamizu
** Volume 1 **
In the region of Toba, there once lived a nobleman named Takayanagi no Saisho. Unhappy at being childless even after passing the age of thirty, he offered prayers to the gods, and was rewarded with the birth of a baby girl. This brought him great joy, and he brought up his offspring with a lot of love and care.
The baby grew up to become a breathtakingly beautiful young lady by the time she was fourteen or fifteen. Not only that, she excelled in the art of writing waka poems. Her parents were even considering sending her to become a lady-in-waiting in the imperial court.
One evening, the young girl was walking out alone in the flower gardens together with her companion, a woman named Menotogo no Tsukisae. The young girl was playing with flowers.
Unbeknownst to her, this was the home of several foxes. One of them took one look at her and fell in love instantly.
"What a beautiful young lady she is!" the fox thought,
"If only I could see her face more often, even if it were at a distance ... "
However, the girl eventually returned home, and the fox, not knowing what else to do, also returned to its lair, where he fretted a long while thinking,
"Why did I have to be born a fox? Let me take on the appearance of a dashing young man and woo the girl ... no, that is impossible. Her very life would be in danger if she were to marry a fox. I cannot do such a thing."
He fretted and mooned and did not touch even a morsel of food. Thinking that he might just see the object of his love once again, he roamed around the flower gardens once more, only to have stones hurled at him by people who saw him coming.
Desperate just to see the beautiful young lady, he eventually came up with a plan.
There also lived a devout man who lamented that all his children were sons. The fox changed his form to that of a pretty girl of fourteen or fifteen and went to visit his house. There, she pleaded,
"I used to live in Western Capital City, but circumstances have left me alone in the world. Would you let me stay here with you?"
To this, the lady of the house replied happily,
"I am sorry to hear that. Do consider me your mother from now on. We were a little lonely without a daughter."
The girl was treated with great care at the house, but she seemed to have something on her mind, and sometimes it looked like she had been crying. Worried about this, her foster mother questioned her.
"If there a special someone, do tell me. Do not hide things."
But the girl only replied, "There is no such thing. With a status such as mine, I know I cannot marry as ordinary girls do. But I do have the wish to become a companion to some pretty lady from a noble house."
"If that is your wish, then it might be nice to work in the service of the young lady of the Takayanagi household. Let me put in a word."
Needless to say, the girl was ecstatic upon hearing these words.
By and by, the girl came to work for the young lady. The young lady was also pleased to see the pretty girl, who was given the name Tamamizu or Water Bead.
Just like Tsukisae, it was now her job to provide company to the young lady throughout the day.
Even so, Tamamizu had a deathly fear of dogs, and would go pale in the face if one would enter the gardens. The young lady felt sorry for her, and ordered that dogs not be allowed inside the compound.
Thus, she spent days being given favorable treatment that would have been the envy of others. And yet Tamamizu's poems betrayed a distressed mind, which worried her young mistress no end.
Warm affection, even deeper than a real parent's, was shown to Tamamizu by her foster mother, who sent her letters, clothes and the like.
In the autumn of her third year in the service of the young lady, it was decided to hold a contest for the most beautiful autumn leaf collected by a participant. Tamamizu left the manor in late evening, returned to her form as a fox, and went to where her fox siblings were. In her absence they had feared Tamamizu had perished, and were overjoyed to see her again.
"For the past three years, I have been working in the service of the Takayanagi household. To tell the truth, an important contest for the most beautiful autumn leaf will be held tomorrow. Would you be kind enough to find me one at any cost?"
Being asked by Tamamizu, the siblings agreed: "No problem at all."
She returned to the manor to find her young mistress and Tsukisae worried about her, for it was rare for Tamamizu to stay out so late.
When she tried to sidestep it jokingly by saying,
"I went to meet someone I had given my word to," the young lady shot back,
"I am sure you will forget all about me soon."
Tamamizu's siblings went out into the mountains and found a lovely maple leaf, with five shades in the spray and the words of the Lotus Sutra imprinted on each leaf. The young lady could not take her eyes off it. She bade Tamamizu compose a poem, and attached it to the scarlet-tinged maple leaves.
Soon the day of the contest arrived. There were none that could compare to the leaves that the young mistress has got. There were five rounds, and she won in each of them. Word of the news reached the Emperor's ears, he asked to be presented with the leaf. On seeing the superb leaf, the emperor ordered his chief general to bring the young lady to the imperial court. For the preparations, her father Saisho was granted three districts. Even Tamamizu was given a place called Kakuta in the province of Tsu, a fact that thrilled her foster mother.
But one day her foster mother fell ill. It seemed like the work of some evil spirits, and her condition worsened by the day. On hearing her wish,
"I want to see Tamamizu at least once, before I die,"
Tamamizu asked for leave and went to see her ailing foster mother.
Of course she was ecstatic to see her. She took Tamamizu's hand and said as she wept,
"It must be fate from my past life as I always worry about you and only you."
Hearing this, Tamamizu could only weep in silence.
** Volume 2 **
Her foster mother continued to suffer from evil spirits. Once, when her condition had improved,
she took out a mirror and gave it to Tamamizu, saying,
"I feel pity for you. Who will you think of as a mother once I am gone? My own mother gave me this mirror. Keep it and remember me by it."
Then, a letter came for Tamamizu from her mistress asking about her return. It read,
"Your dear mother's illness is very distressing, but do come back once she gets even a little better. It is lonely without you here."
Upon seeing this letter, Tamamizu's foster mother learned that she was being treated well where she was in service, and this made her happy. Tsukisae had also written a thoughtful letter. Tamamizu wrote a reply, in which she said,
"Thank you for your kind letter. I never stopped thinking about my dear mistress even for a moment, but I cannot leave my ailing mother and return.
I want to come personally to your quarters once her condition improves a little and speak to you about things."
In this time, her foster mother suffered another attack of the evil spirits. Then something strange occurred as Tamamizu was taking care of her and she was getting better. Suddenly an old fox, with not a single strand of hair on its body, made its appearance. Tamamizu looked at it closely, and was startled when she realized it was her uncle. She begged the fox,
"By chance, I came to be able to call this person lying sick here my mother. Please help her.
"I will not do that," the fox replied.
"This woman's father was the one who killed my lovely child for no reason. I will show her!"
Tamamizu tried to reason, reminding the fox of the words of Lord Buddha:
"Anger has its place, but would it not be a deeper crime to kill this person in a fit of anger?" Tamamizu's desperate persuasions made the fox see the truth. He said,
"Yes, that is true. Killing this person lying ill here would not bring my darling child back to life. I want you to pray for the peace of my child's soul. From this day, I will retreat to the mountains and say prayers to Buddha."
Saying this, he left Tanamizu's foster mother and made off alone.
By and by, Tamamizu's foster mother made a complete recovery. Tamamizu told her of the fox's appearance and about how the spirit had possessed her, and then made offerings to appease the soul of the slain fox. Thus she was now free to return to the home of her young mistress.
It was the month of November. The entire manor was busy with preparations for her induction to the Imperial palace. Tamamizu was given the honorary title of Chujo no Kimi, and was to live with her mistress as a companion in the palace. But for some reason, Tamamizu was not happy and tended to look miserable. If her mistress asked what was wrong, she would simply reply that it was not the time for talking. This worried her young mistress no end.
Tamamizu thought hard and came to a conclusion.
"Despite being a mere beast, I have loved my mistress, and even been by her side as a companion, but in vain. I want to tell my dear mistress of my true form, but revealing the truth at this point would only frighten her. I must disappear when everyone is busy at the time of going to the palace."
She locked herself in her room, and wrote about her true form as a fox as well as all of the things from the time she had fallen instantly in love until now, and put them all away in a small box.
Tamamizu then took the box to where her mistress was, and told her,
"For some reason it is hard to tell what tomorrow might bring these days. For all you know I might disappear at any moment, and so I will leave this box in your care. Please open this box should anything happen to me."The young lady protested:
"Why do you say such a thing? Won't you be here with me for all the days to come?"
To which Tamamizu replied:
"I do hope to be with my lady here at the Imperial palace, but anything can happen. Please do not show the contents of this box to anyone, not even Tsukisae. Please open the box many years from now when you decide to enter the priesthood."
Her mistress wept even as she took the box. Both of them dissolved into tears. There were people around them now, so the lady hid the box away from prying eyes.
While her mistress was involved in leaving for the Imperial palace, Tamamizu vanished. They searched and searched for her but she was nowhere to be found. Her mistress and fellow ladies-in-waiting, even her mistress's father, were miserable.
The lady longed to know what was inside the box, but the emperor was always with her so she kept silent. At long last she got the chance to open it secretly while he was on a visit.
Inside lay a letter in which were written things that she could not believe. Terribly frightening things, and pitiful things too. She thought,
"For my sake Tamamizu took on a woman's form, and kept silent about it until now. She may have been a mere beast, but how painful that she suffered in such a tragic way!"
A long poem was written in the letter.
It spoke of Tamamizu leaving a beloved home, of consoling her heart by pouring all into the service of her lady, of realizing the worthlessness of it all when her lady came to be invited to the palace, of wanting to watch over her lady throughout this lifetime and the next.
And then there was something about how the small box was not to be opened. It read,
"This box is ageless. It will help you be always loved by your husband. Do not open it as long as you and the emperor are man and wife.
Open it only when you decide to become a priest."
The young lady was stunned at the painful heart of Tamamizu.
Thus ends the pitiful story of fox Tamamizu.
Copyright 2001. Kyoto University Library