Wednesday, 30 May 2012


Here is some more English work from Annie Parmeter, written when she was 12 at Moorestown College, St Peter.  Here is her retelling of a Japanese folk tale. There are many tellings of this story, often with different endings. Folktales keep a basic form, but often change over time in the way they are told, depending on who tells them, and what the speaker intends to convey.  It is interesting that the form of the Shiro tale remains very constant - except for the ending, which changes. In some versions, the greedy neighbour and his wife end up in prison, and don't repent. In one version, the trees are cherry trees, and their blossoming is the end of the story.   Here are a few of the different endings.

(1) The greedy man asked the important man to forgive him for what he had done. They slowly changed their ways. They became gentle and good friends. On every festival all four went to the place where Shiro was buried. They prayed and offered mochi-cakes, so that he should live on in peace. For the rest of their days, they were very kind to each other and to the people of the village. All ended well.

(2) The ashes were blown into the Daimio's eyes. This made him very angry, and he ordered his retainers to arrest the false Hana-Saka-Jijii at once and put him in prison for an impostor. From this imprisonment the wicked old man was never freed. Thus did he meet with punishment at last for all his evil doings.

(3) The old man climbed up a dead tree and flung a handful of ashes at a branch. There was not a single blossom, though. Instead the ashes went straight into the eyes of the lord and his retainers, which produced tears instead of petals. The Lord was extremely angry. His men pulled the old man from the tree, and scolded him severely. The greedy old man apologized over and over again, and finally they let him go home.

(4) The cherry tree was instantly covered in blossoms. With the thought of his beloved Shiro in his heart, he climbed another dead tree and scattered ash. As it too bloomed he felt his sadness lift.  The miracle of the man who made dead trees bloom soon became known all across Japan. The kind old man was named "Grandfather Cherry-Blossom" and given great honor throughout the country.

It is interesting to see how the story changes - is it a story which ends with punishment and retribution, or rehabilitation and penitence? The existence of a version which just ends with the blossoming caused by the ash suggests that the story originally ended there, and that it was extended in two different ways by later tellers of the tale who wanted to elaborate on what happened to the greedy neighbour. 

Shiro, by the way, means white - the colour of the dog.

Shiro: A Folk Tale retold by Annie Parmeter

A farmer found a thin white dog and he took it home and cared for it. One day, when the old man was digging in the field, the dog, named Shiro, suddenly began to dig, and after a short while a fountain of gold coins poured out of the hole.
The greedy next-door neighbour saw this, and asked if he could borrow the dog for a day. As soon as the old man was out of sight, the neighbour started to be cruel to the dog because it was too frightened to show him where the gold was. The greedy man was waving his spade about; he struck something hard in the soil and dug it up, but it was only rags, logs and broken tiles. The man was furious and hit Shiro with the spade. His master heard his whine and took him home, but Shiro died that evening.
The old couple planted a pine tree by Shiro's grave. The tree grew to 100 feet in a month because Shiro's spirit had entered the tree and made it grow. The old man chopped down the tree and made a beautiful wooden mortar out of part of it. When the old man and his wife used it, the rice grains turned to gold.
Again the neighbour asked the couple to lend him something. This time it was the mortar. But the rice did not turn into gold, so the neighbour threw it in the fire; when the old man came to collect it, he was told that it had fallen apart and been burned on the fire, but the ashes were still there. So the old man took home the ashes and, on the way home, some of the ash was caught by the wind and it settled on the trees and turned into flowers and leaves.
Just then the Lord of the Province happened to be coming down the road, and saw what had happened. He gave the old man a huge sack of gold. The greedy neighbour had seen this and collected the remaining ashes taken from the fire and came up to the Lord and said that he, too, could make the trees bloom even though it was winter; and began to throw the ash about. But it went into the eyes of the Lord and his servants and the Lord was livid and made the greedy man confess to all he had done, and he was penitent.
Every festival or anniversary, the reformed neighbour and his wife went with the old couple to the temple where they offered prays and offerings for the everlasting peace of Shiro's spirit.

1 comment:

TonyTheProf said...

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