MUKASHIBANASHI 9: LORD RICESTRAW (DAIETSU)
Or, the one where a humble young man rises to fame, fortune, and nobility by a series of good deeds, each one done in consequence of a previous good deed, in a Chain of Deals such as those in the film Pay It Forward or chain tales such as "Piggy Won't Go Over the Fence" (type 2030) or "The Death of the Little Hen/Tittymouse" (type 2021). The chain reaction in this story features human rather than animal, plant, and object actants, which makes the approach to the premise different to the one heard in Western folktales and closer to postmodern retellings such as the film.
Mukashi mukashi, once upon a time, an orphan stripling with nothing to his name but the clothes he wore --homeless, penniless, friendless, and unmarried, and as thin as a rice straw--, went to a shrine of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, to pray for good fortune.
Within the shrine, on that very summer morn, he heard a friendly female voice which came from above giving him advice to:
"Pick up the first thing you see after leaving the shrine."
Convinced that the goddess had given him a sign, he rushed out and stumbled on the steps, fortunately landing unscathed, next to... a rice straw which was on the roadside!
Remembering Kannon's advice, our lad Daietsu picked up the rice straw as he rose up.
As he trudged along the rice pads, a dragonfly's path chanced to cross with that of our young man. It was a fine bug, the length of a pinky finger and the wingspan of two, the colour of lapis lazuli with wings like the finest lacework, and it landed right on the straw he was holding.
So on Daietsu went with some glad company perched on his lucky straw. It was a lovely bug, best to tie it up with a thread around its waist and the other end round the straw lest it fly away, and so he did. Some time later that day, he came across a mother and child, both looking rather weary. And it came to chance that all three stopped for a rest at the same wayside spot, flushed and tired as they were. Yet the little child's eyes lit up as they saw the pretty blue dragonfly; it would make a nice pet bug indeed! So the lad gave the dragonfly away, and the mother, in exchange, gave the kind-hearted young man the peony she wore in her hair.
It was a lovely peony, a true Eastern rose with ring upon ring of soft rose-red petals.
After thanking one another and taking their leave, on our lad went with the flower in his cleavage, taking it out and watering it in the rice pads every now and then to keep it fresh. It looked as if he wore his heart on the outside! After a while, Daietsu saw another young man his own age, with his head buried in his hands, resting on a stump. In his lap lay three satsumas, or Clementine oranges. Our traveller stopped to rest and kindly asked the other young man why he was brooding:
"I have no gift to give the maiden I love; you see, I am a poor orphan boy just like you... but she lives in that castle up the hill over there, she wears the finest silks, and I fear her parents will not see I'm good enough... But what a lovely flower! It's as if you were wearing your heart upon your chest! That peony is surely something worth giving her; may I give it to her?"
Daietsu kindly gave the suitor his peony, and received the three fruits in exchange. They were brightly coloured, ripe, juicy little oranges... surely something worth the pain when the day had advanced a little more and he would be flushed with thirst and the hot sun!
After thanking one another and taking their leave, on our lad went carrying the three fruits. And soon came the mid-day and the sun's rays plumbed down upon the ground. Not finding a spring around in the hilly country, Daietsu stopped in his tracks by the wayside for the third time, in the shade of a pine... and, as he put a peeled satsuma to his lips, a reeling rickshaw peddler, drenched with perspiration, collapsed right by his side!
"This poor man is exhausted and sunstruck, and far thirstier than I," the orphan boy thought, so he carried the peddler into the friendly shade and put the three satsumas, one by one, into his mouth; the weary peddler eagerly gulped down the citrus juice and, after a while resting and cooling himself, once the mid-day had turned to afternoon, he looked left and right and into the younger man's friendly eyes, realising who had brought him to the shade and quenched his thirst.
"You saved my life; that good deed shall not be in vain!" he said, returning to his rickshaw and giving his saviour the finest silk he carried within. It was a lovely roll of lilac brocade, with a wisteria pattern embroidered in silver thread.
After thanking one another and taking their leave, on our lad went with the roll of silk under his left arm. As the sun began to set, he came across a carriage in which a young lady, a maiden who looked too lovely to be mortal and human, had stopped for a rest. The next day would be her lord father's fiftieth birthday, and she wanted to surprise him with a brand new kimono... and what's more, she was very fond of the colour lilac and wisterias were her favourite flowers!
The lad was more than honoured to give his brocade away to such a friendly and kind-hearted maiden, and she had found him after her taste as well, no matter the difference in rank. So he told her the whole story from the point when the goddess had given him the advice and he had picked up the straw... and she listened with sparkles in her eyes and a smile on her face, as he felt a twinge in his chest both from her reactions and his own recollections.
Certainly, the goddess Kannon had given both the noble maiden and the orphan stripling a good fortune they could not even dream of!
That evening, Daietsu travelled by carriage towards the castle by the maiden's side; she was the only child and heiress to the whole shire, and her highborn parents were also impressed by the chain of acts of kindness, surely a sign from above, that had led to him supping and sleeping that night in the halls of privilege.
A few days later, the lad and the heiress were husband and wife, and he never had to live in want or struggle for his life anymore. He still kept, however, the nom de guerre of Lord Ricestraw, to remember the acts of kindness which had led him to a life of privilege that, luckily, never corrupted his good soul. He even founded a school for the village children, so that, regardless of gender or rank, no one should grow up unlearned.
Thus does the Goddess of Mercy thank her votaries!
Once more, and to quote the Shakespearean Cerimon, this mukashibanashi, like The Hatted Jizos before, demonstrates the worth that charity, learned or not, aye bears.
As said in the introduction to this tale, it is similar to the film Pay It Forward or chain tales such as "Piggy Won't Go Over the Fence" (type 2030) or "The Death of the Little Hen/Tittymouse" (type 2021). The chain reaction in this story features human rather than animal, plant, and object actants, which makes the approach to the premise different to the one heard in Western folktales and closer to postmodern retellings such as the film.
It's also reminiscent to Hans in Luck, collected by the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen, in which a young man trades down (instead of up like Daietsu) from a bar of gold to a whetstone and harmonica (or from a horse to a sack full of apples, in the Andersen tale). In these tales (type 1415), however, the titular character always trades an item for one of lesser value, retaining an optimistic outlook all the time; the Andersen version ends with a successful bet with two foreign businessmen ("my wife will kiss me, not kill me!") and subsequent rise to wealth.
In real life, at the turn of the millennium, a humble young man has traded himself up from one red paperclip to a suburban house and motor car. Canadian blogger Kyle MacDonald achieved this through fourteen online trades during the course of a year (2005-2006). "A lot of people have been asking how I've stirred up so much publicity around the project, and my simple answer is: 'I have no idea'", he told the BBC.
Many Japanese role-playing games, inspired by this tale, feature a sidequest/subplot that involves a chain of deals to achieve a one-of-a-kind rare item.
MUKASHIBANASHI DONE SO FAR:
Benizara and Kakezara
Kaguyahime (Princess Kaguya)
Momotaro (Peach Taro)
Grampies with Wens (Kobutori Jiisan)
Old Man Bloom (Hanasaka Jiisan)
The Hatted Jizos (Kasa Jizo)
The Tengu's Cloak
Mount Crackle (Kachikachiyama)
The Macaque Vs. the Crab (Saru Kani Gassen)
The Lucky Kettle (Bunbuku Chagama)
The Crane Maiden
The Axe in the Pond