There was once an old man and an old woman. The name of the old man was Gombeiji, and of the old woman Torah. They were very good people. They lived in complete privacy, and were content with little. Their whole fortune consisted of a miserable, thatched hut, built on the side of the mountain, and a small field of melons and eggplant they cultivated with love.
Now, a few steps from their home, lived, in a deep burrow, a badger of a certain age. This mischievous animal spent his nights ravaging as much as he could the scope of its neighbors. One day, Gombeiji, out of patience, ended by placing a trap for the badger. Delighted to have finally captured the evil beast, the old man take him in his cabin, string him solidly the legs, and suspended him from a ceiling of the nail. Then he said to his wife:
– Old woman, take care to not escape . I go to the field to repair the damage he has caused there last night. On my return, we will put him in the pot. He must be very good, the badger meat!
Thereupon he took his tools and goes to work, trusting animals to be guarded by Torah.
The position of the badger was not interesting, and at the prospect of being eaten in the evening he was not smiling at all. He thought for a long time a way out of this such unpleasant situation. Badgers have many tricks up in their sleeves! He chose one which, given the circumstances, seemed the best.
The old woman is being pounded rice:
– Poor woman! he said in a compassionate voice, I suffer to see you working this way, at your age. This must tire you much. Will you allow me to help you? Pass me the pestle. I will do the work in your place; during this time you shall rest.
– What do you sing to me? answers the old woman looking at him. Ah! yes, I see what you want. You want me off you. Then you will get away without saying goodbye. None of that, my friend! What would my husband say, when he will return, if he will not find you there? No, no, stay where you are, and leave me alone.
The badger is not discouraged by this first failure:
– I understand your fears, he resumes. You think I want to escape … I see that you do not know me … We, badgers, we have only one word … I’m caught; it’s unfortunate for me; but what’s done is done … I have not the slightest intention of saving me … I just wanted to do to you a favor… It would be so easy to tie me again, and get back to same place, before the return of your husband … He would have known nothing at all … But since you do not consent, it’s ok. Never mind … Stack your rice … After all, I do not care!
Torah was not mean, and no evil suspicion in others. She said that, ultimately, this animal could be sincere, and she would be very happy if he would pound rice for him. After some hesitation:
– Do you promise me not to save you, if I loose you? she asks.
– Badger faith, I swear! answers the treacherous animal.
The too confident woman off the badger and passes him the pestle. The beast grabbed him and, even before the poor old had time to cry out, he struck him a blow on the skull of such violence that she fell down dead on the kitchen floor.
Badger does not waste time. He takes a knife, cut into pieces the still warm body of his victim, stacks the pieces into the pot that was set before him to himself, and begins to boil. Then he metamorphosis. Because everyone knows that the badger has the interesting ability to transform whenever he pleases.
So he takes the appearance of the old Torah, puts on his clothes, sits on the mat, and while stoking the fire, awaiting the return of her husband.
Gombeiji is far from suspecting what happened during his absence. He leaves his field at dusk and returned to the cabin, reveling in advance at the thought of lavish meal that awaits.
He meets the false Torah, doing the bacon:
– You’ve already killed him? he said on returning.
– Yes, she answers, I thought you would be hungry to get back. Look! See how it smells good!
And speaking thus, she lifts the lid. The pot boiling escapes an odor that the old man can not help but find very strange!
Then he lays his tools, washes his hands, sits down at the tiny table where he eats, is used, and begins to devour with gusto. Poor Gombeiji! You do not have to go so fast, and do not delight you so much! If you knew what you eat! … Hardly he swallowed the last bite, he hears behind him a great laugh. He turns. A big stupor! His old woman was gone! In her place, the badger, that he believed ate him! This, indeed, resumes in a second its natural shape, and laughed out loud:
– Well, old man! he said, it was good, your old? For it is her you just eat! … She detached me, the foolish! So I killed her, then cut into pieces, then I cooked in my place, and you have swallowed her! Ha! ha! ha! …
And before Gombeiji could recover from his surprise, badger jumped out the door and fled with all the speed of his legs.
The unfortunate old man was long, long time, unable to recover. In despair, he would gladly snatch hair, he had had yet.
– Poor Torah! he kept repeating, weeping! This is your kindness made you lost! … And I, who have eaten you! … How to support the weight of such shame? … Can I survive such misfortune! … No, it only remains for me to die, die like the samurai …
Everyone knows that the samurai, to save their honor, only thought he could do nothing better than to open his belly. So the unfortunate old man determined this way.
He sees at his feet the kitchen knife, the same knife the badger has used for tearing into pieces the unfortunate Torah. He seized it with a trembling hand. Then falling on his knees, he pronounces the Supreme prayer, pronounced the sacred formula of the heroes who kill themselves, “Namu Amida Butsu”. While rejecting his coat back, he sinks the knife in the belly, and walks the blade slowly from left to right…
But behold! now, at the same time, the cabin lights suddenly a mysterious light. A white and transparent form approaches the old man, lying lifeless on the ground … The appearance touches the wound of her diaphanous hand … From half-open belly, smiling and full of life, the old Torah escapes, and the wound closes … Then, the ghost disappears and the light fades! …
The two old, back to life, were looking each other … At the height of surprise, they did not at first know what to think and say … They finally understand that heaven came to their rescue … They fall on their knees, thank the gods, cry, welcome, embrace …
The day after that memorable day, the couple talked together about how to avenge the badger who had done them so much harm. What was, in fact, become the badger? He took refuge in his den and, fearing rightly retaliation of old man, he did not dare to get out.
The couple thus talking together. Suddenly, a light footstep was heard at the door of the hut. A soft voice asked permission to enter. It was the hare, the cute white hare that lives in the mountains, and who came to visit them.
The hare is not bad as the badger! Also the couple received him very politely. They made him sit with them, and offered him tea. Then the old man told him how the badger had knocked his wife and made him eat; how he, in despair, had opened the belly, being a deity then appeared and had made life to old woman and healed his own injury. Then he spoke of their plans for revenge, and asked him if he would not know a way to seize the badger.
– Dear friends, said the hare, having listened in silence this strange story, do not trouble yourself. You want revenge? You’ll get it. And it is I who am responsible. Hare faith, you will not wait long!
Thereupon all three exchanged the usual salutations; the hare took leave of his friends and returned to his house, to ruminate his plan.
The badger, in his hole, was bored to death. At some time later, the hare came to see him:
– My friend, he said on entering, what’s happening then? One no longer sees you in the fields. Would you sick by chance?
Badger would not explain his visitor the real reason why he was hiding, and he replied that indeed he felt a little sick.
– My dear, then returned the hare, staying locked will not heal you. Look what beautiful weather we have today! Let’s see! do not you come with me to a walk? We will go to the mountain, where we will pick up the wood menu.
Badger, one side, was bored to death. On the other hand, he had no reason to suspect the pretty white hare want to harm him. So it was without hesitation that he accepted the proposal. They leave arm in arm, are going in the mountain, picking up branches menus, make fagots and mutually attached on the back. Then they have to go down. The hare had brought a lighter, for the hare had his plan. Taking advantage of a moment when her companion is distracted, he passes slowly, behind him, the lighter bat to draw fire: “Katchikatchi” sounds the lighter.
Badger hears and, without looking back:
– Hare, he asked, what did “Katchikatchi” behind me?
– It’s nothing, says the other. The name of mountain where we are is Katchikatchi; it is his name that you thought you heard!
While speaking thus, the hare set fire to the bundle of the badger. The crackling flame sounds “Ka-pika”. Badger still wonder:
– What did “Ka-pika” behind me?
– Oh! it is nothing, says the hare. The mountain where we are is also called Ka-pika; it is his name that you thought you heard!
The bundle was burning … The flame soon reached the hairs of the badger. At the first sensation of pain, it uttered a cry of terror! Then the pain became more and more bitter, he rolled on the ground, with horrible contortions; Finally, unable to do more, he rushed at the bottom of the mountain, and fled in his den, where he spent the night in hideous tortures.
The next morning, the hare came to pay a second visit:
– My friend, he said, with feigned tenderness, it happened to you yesterday a very unpleasant adventure! I had mercy on you. I went to a pharmacist friend of mine. He gave me this remedy. Drink it tonight before going to sleep, and tomorrow your suffering will disappear completely.
And he held out a small vial, which contained a very violent poison, he had himself prepared with herbs from the mountains. Badger, who never suspected his friend to have in respect of bad intentions, accepted without any mistrust the supposed remedy. The hare then wished him good luck, and bowing deeply, returned to his house, enjoying in his heart the success of his ruse.
Badger swallowed the poison. Immediately he felt throughout his body a terrible burn. He twisted like a worm in the midst of terrible suffering and began to push piercing cries. The next day at dawn, the hare came to see if the badger was dead. This one was not dead yet, as the badgers have a hard time. He was lying and suffered horribly.
The hare then judged that the occasion was most favorable for one to satisfy his revenge:
– Badger, he cried, you probably remember the old Torah, you knocked and have eaten by her husband. Well, learn that the gods always punish the crime. It’s me they chose as an instrument of their vengeance. It was I who set fire to your bundle of wood on Mount Katchikatchi. This remedy I brought you yesterday is a poison that I had myself prepared for you to kill you. Die, then! And Gombeiji and Torah are avenged!
Saying this, he was grabbing a large stone, he knocked the badger, who was soon breathed his last …
The hare, having accomplished his mission, went to tell it to the old man and woman who were waiting in their hut. He told them all the details in the story of revenge. The good people were very happy to learn of the death of their enemy. Great was their gratitude to the pretty white hare who had avenged. They took him as their son, called him Usagidono, loved him and treated him well. The hare then began to give them all kinds of services.
The widow of the badger lived with her two children in a miserable condition. All the mountain animals knew what had happened. It was said all over the evening at the vigil, the misdeeds of the badger, unexpected aid from heaven, revenge of white hare. The latter was extolled, while the conduct of the first was the object of the most malicious assessments. Also, there was no pity for the widow and her two son.
The poor disinherited children could no longer appear in daylight; as soon as they were seen, it was a compete who insult them more. They threw stones at them, the dogs barked after them, the wolves chasing them, hares themselves laughing on their passage.
The elder of the two children was called Tanukitaro; his brother was called Yamajiro. They were not bad as was their father. But the situation in which they lived was intolerable and, from their heart, they hated the pretty white hare, who had killed their father and had reduced to this miserable existence.
One of the most sacred duties of filial piety ordered them to avenge the death of their poor father. They decided, therefore, to kill his murderer. But they knew that he was not a coward nor a poltroon, as are generally all those of his species. They thought it prudent to practice first in weapons. That’s why, every night, the brothers spent many hours doing fencing, on the front of their den.
Yamajiro, even younger, made much faster progress than his brother because he was smarter than the elder, something we often encounter in the animals. He was also more robust and skillful …
While the two young badgers were preparing the way to accomplish their revenge, the pretty white hare lived, as we have said, the cabin of Gombeiji. His fame took colossal proportions. All animals respected him and greeted him in passing. The hare army had appointed him its commander in chief.
He, always humble in the midst of honors, good and helpful, was giving to Torah and Gombeiji all sorts of good offices. It was he who drew water from the well, did the cooking, washing dishes, offered tea and tobacco to visitors.
They arrived in the fifteenth day of the eighth month. Now this is the night of the fifteenth day hares celebrate their patronal feast. That night, in fact, the moon, their patron and protector, shows itself in all its full and at its height, in the middle of a sky of perfect purity. The hare tribe thus meets every year in this beautiful night to feast, dance and drink.
That year, the eve of the great day, Usagidono, in instances force, had obtained from its old masters promise to accompany him to the meeting he was to preside himself. They were going to bed when they heard the footsteps of a visitor. It was a young hare. He entered the hut, bowed deeply commanding general, and spoke to him in these words:
– Sorry to disturb you so late. This is a matter of the utmost importance. I just beg you not to go to the meeting tomorrow night. Here’s why: the two young badgers, whose mischievous father perished under your blows, want to enjoy the party to make you a bad party. They speak of nothing less than to put you to death. My mother holds something of a weasel, family friend. It also seems that for several days, the two brothers engaged in weapons, and Yamajiro, the youngest, it became a rare skill. You know the saying: The real hero is not exposed to danger.
When the visitor had finished speaking, Usagidono replied:
– You are really very kind to have come warn me, and I thank you for this proof of affection, but I am resolved not to consider the danger you mention. For a long time, I know, the two badger sons plotting my death. What could be more just and more natural? Do not they have a duty to avenge their father? Each turn in this world. I imagined that my two enemies, taking advantage of the ability to transform that has granted their nature, would use cunning to kill me unexpectedly. It seems they renounce use this unfair ploy, they want to compete with me face up. I admire and esteem. I am happy to die at the hands of these two brave. Although so far from avoiding them, I will myself go to meet their shots.
Thus spoke the pretty white hare. The old Gombeiji had listened in silence. Then he took his turn:
– My dear child, he said to his adopted son, what you just said is reasonable, and I can only approve you. Let me, however, to make you a point. You will die, you say, by badger’s hands. What happens after that? It will happen as hares who have chosen you as their leader will want to turn avenge your death; it will also be their right and duty. So they kill the two badgers. Then the tribe of badgers will want to avenge the death of two children. The struggle between hares and badgers continue this way from generation to generation, something very unfortunate.
Is there a better way to fix things? Listen. Here’s what I think the past few days. The badger you killed was my enemy when he lived; Now, it is no longer of this world; I have no reason to keep my hatred. So I think to raise a monument to him and for him to celebrate a solemn service, which would be convened the two tribes badgers and hares. I also would make a pension for the poor widow. Both sons will be surely grateful and abandon their plan of revenge, and peace would be restored.
Usagidono fully approved the great and generous offer of his master. It was agreed that everyone would go to the party and the white hare publicly announce the thing. Thereupon, the visitor took his leave. Gombeiji, Usagidono and Torah went to bed, happy soul and heart full of hope.
The solemn moment arrived. Of all the surrounding mountains, hares rush a happy group. They gather in a large tent built at the foot of a huge and tight pin flags and banners flying in the breeze. Completed customary greetings, the meal begins.
Several hundred hares are seated, forming a huge circle. Everyone has before him the tiny table that bears the sake flask, trim sliced fish and rice cup. In place of honor on a higher seat, sits Usagidono, chairman of the meeting. He has to its right the old Gombeiji, and left the old Torah.
The two young badgers had approached silently, muffling the sound of their footsteps. They were dressed with their war costume, and wore two swords alongside the sharp blade. They looked through the slits, and saw their enemy. Yamajiro would instantly penetrate the tent and accomplish his revenge, but his brother held him back:
– Hold, he said, grabbing her arm. You see they are several hundred. What could we against so many? Wait! They will drink. Soon they will be drunk: then we can safely accomplish our revenge.
Hares, indeed, drank. Sake cups passed from hand to hand. The usual chants would start … Suddenly, a great silence in the room. The chief stood up and, with a solemn gesture, he ordered the attention. All eyes were on him. At the door, the two badgers intrigued stretched ear:
– Dear friends, began the speaker, since we are all here tonight to celebrate our illustrious patron, I would like to take the occasion to make you a proposal that I am sure in advance, you will all accept.
Applause broke out, evidence that the proposal of chief, even unknown yet, was assured in advance to obtain universal assent. The white hare then told in detail the history of the badger and the events of his death. Then he added:
– His widow and son both now lead very unhappy lives. Banished from their tribe, insulted and cursed by all the animals of the mountain, they undergo a fate they did not deserve, because it is not fair that the crimes of the father fall on her children. I therefore propose a general reconciliation, asking you to make your friendship to the poor widow and his two brave son.
Here, the applause redoubled. The two badgers look, surprised by the language that they were so far from expecting, Usagidono continued:
– My old master, here, wants to raise a tomb to his former enemy. He wants us to draw her a solemn funeral. He also asked us to organize a generous subscription to a pension to the unfortunate widow.
Hardly had the last words they been uttered, a loud noise occurred on the side of the door. Both badgers had just burst into the room. Hares, frightened, rose from a common movement and massed around their leader. The two brothers advanced throwing away their arms and bow down Usagidono, shedding copious tears. The white hare raises them and embraces them. Then a tremor of emotion seizes the entire room. Both badgers are carried in triumph. A mad dance is organized and until dawn, until the moon disappeared behind the mountain, it was a festival such as hares had never had.
The next day Usagidono brought in the countryside the badger’s widow and her two children. He made them do a lot of knowledge and reconciled them with all their enemies. The two tribes, hares and badgers, then met: both sides swore eternal friendship; then, a procession was organized and the body of the dead badger was transported to the grave Gombeiji had prepared for him.
Since that day, hares and badgers have always lived in the relations of perfect harmony and closer friendship.
(Translated and adapted from Fables et légendes du Japon, by Claudius Ferrand)