| The Story Of Urashima Taro, The Fisher Lad |
ONG, LONG AGO in the province of Tango there lived on the shore of Japan in the little fishing village of Mizu-no-ye a young fisherman named Urashima Taro. His father had been a fisherman before him, and his skill had more than doubly descended to his son, for Urashima was the most skillful fisher in all that country side, and could catch more Bonito and Tai in a day than his comrades could in a week.
But in the little fishing village, more than for being a clever fisher of the sea was he known for his kind heart. In his whole life he had never hurt anything, either great or small, and when a boy, his companions had always laughed at him, for he would never join with them in teasing animals, but always tried to keep them from this cruel sport.
One soft summer twilight he was going home at the end of a day's fishing when he came upon a group of children. They were all screaming and talking at the tops of their voices, and seemed to be in a state of great excitement about something, and on his going up to them to see what was the matter he saw that they were tormenting a tortoise. First one boy pulled it this way, then another boy pulled it that way, while a third child beat it with a stick, and the fourth hammered its shell with a stone.
Now Urashima felt very sorry for the poor tortoise and made up his mind to rescue it. He spoke to the boys:
"Look here, boys, you are treating that poor tortoise so badly that it will soon die!"
The boys, who were all of an age when children seem to delight in being cruel to animals, took no notice of Urashima's gentle reproof, but went on teasing it as before. One of the older boys answered:
"Who cares whether it lives or dies? We do not. Here, boys, go on, go on!"
And they began to treat the poor tortoise more cruelly than ever. Urashima waited a moment, turning over in his mind what would be the best way to deal with the boys. He would try to persuade them to give the tortoise up to him, so he smiled at them and said:
"I am sure you are all good, kind boys! Now won't you give me the tortoise? I should like to have it so much!"
"No, we won't give you the tortoise," said one of the boys. "Why should we? We caught it ourselves."
"What you say is true," said Urashima, "but I do not ask you to give it to me for nothing. I will give you some money for it--in other words, the Ojisan (Uncle) will buy it of you. Won't that do for you, my boys?" He held up the money to them, strung on a piece of string through a hole in the center of each coin. "Look, boys, you can buy anything you like with this money. You can do much more with this money than you can with that poor tortoise. See what good boys you are to listen to me"
The boys were not bad boys at all, they were only mischievous, and as Urashima spoke they were won by his kind smile and gentle words and began "to be of his spirit," as they say in Japan. Gradually they all came up to him, the ringleader of the little band holding out the tortoise to him.
"Very well, Ojisan, we will give you the tortoise if you will give us the money!" And Urashima took the tortoise and gave the money to the boys, who, calling to each other, scampered away and were soon out of sight.
Then Urashima stroked the tortoise's back, saying as he did so:
"Oh, you poor thing! Poor thing!--there, there! you are safe now! They say that a stork lives for a thousand years, but the tortoise for ten thousand years. You have the longest life of any creature in this world, and you were in great danger of having that precious life cut short by those cruel boys. Luckily I was passing by and saved you, and so life is still yours. Now I am going to take you back to your home, the sea, at once. Do not let yourself be caught again, for there might be no one to save you next time!"
All the time that the kind fisherman was speaking he was walking quickly to the shore and out upon the rocks; then putting the tortoise into the water he watched the animal disappear, and turned homewards himself, for he was tired and the sun had set.
The next morning Urashima went out as usual in his boat. The weather was fine and the sea and sky were both blue and soft in the tender haze of the summer morning. Urashima got into his boat and dreamily pushed out to sea, throwing his line as he did so. He soon passed the other fishing boats and left them behind him till they were lost to sight in the distance, and his boat drifted further and further out upon the blue waters. Somehow, he knew not why, he felt unusually happy that morning; and he could not help wishing that, like the tortoise he set free the day before, he had thousands of years to live instead of his own short span of human life.
He was suddenly startled from his reverie by hearing his own name called:
Clear as a bell and soft as the summer wind the name floated over the sea.
He stood up and looked in every direction, thinking that one of the other boats had overtaken him, but gaze as he might over the wide expanse of water, near or far there was no sign of a boat, so the voice could not have come from any human being.
Startled, and wondering who or what it was that had called him so clearly, he looked in all directions round about him and saw that without his knowing it a tortoise had come to the side of the boat. Urashima saw with surprise that it was the very tortoise he had rescued the day before.
"Well, Mr. Tortoise," said Urashima, "was it you who called my name just now?"
The tortoise nodded its head several times and said:
"Yes, it was I. Yesterday in your honorable shadow (o kage sama de) my life was saved, and I have come to offer you my thanks and to tell you how grateful I am for your kindness to me."
"Indeed," said Urashima, "that is very polite of you. Come up into the boat. I would offer you a smoke, but as you are a tortoise doubtless you do not smoke," and the fisherman laughed at the joke.
"He-he-he-he!" laughed the tortoise; "sake (rice wine) is my favorite refreshment, but I do not care for tobacco."
"Indeed," said Urashima, "I regret very much that I have no "sake" in my boat to offer you, but come up and dry your back in the sun-- tortoises always love to do that."
So the tortoise climbed into the boat, the fisherman helping him, and after an exchange of complimentary speeches the tortoise said:
"Have you ever seen Rin Gin, the Palace of the Dragon King of the Sea, Urashima?"
The fisherman shook his head and replied; "No; year after year the sea has been my home, but though I have often heard of the Dragon King's realm under the sea I have never yet set eyes on that wonderful place. It must be very far away, if it exists at all!"
"Is that really so? You have never seen the Sea King's Palace? Then you have missed seeing one of the most wonderful sights in the whole universe. It is far away at the bottom of the sea, but if I take you there we shall soon reach the place. If you would like to see the Sea King's land I will be your guide."
"I should like to go there, certainly, and you are very kind to think of taking me, but you must remember that I am only a poor mortal and have not the power of swimming like a sea creature such as you are--"
Before the fisherman could say more the tortoise stopped him, saying:
"What? You need not swim yourself. If you will ride on my back I will take you without any trouble on your part."
"But," said Urashima, "how is it possible for me to ride on your small back?"
"It may seem absurd to you. but I assure you that you can do so. Try at once! Just come and get on my back, and see if it is as impossible as you think!"