Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Magic Mortar

Many thanks to Tim Van Egmond who pointed me to the story!
Also many thanks to Sean Herman who allowed me to use his art. See link under image for his DeviantArt work.  He is also an amazing tattoo artist, I discovered!

The Magic Mortar, retold by Simon Brooks (c) 2012
A tale from Japan

Once, long ago in Japan, there were two brothers. The older brother was wealthy, greddy, and mean-spirited. However, the younger brother was generous, and kind-hearted, but had few possessions or money.

It had been a hard year for the younger brother and New Year was fast approaching.  How could they celebrate the New Year if they had little to no rice or wine?  The young man’s wife told him to go to his older brother and asked for some rice.  If he gave enough, they could make their own wine. Otherwise water would be fine. So the young brother made his way from his own humble home to his brothers fine palace which sat on it’s own island.

The younger brother borrowed a boat and rowed over the sea and came to the palace.  When he walked in and asked the servants where his brother was, he was told by the pond feeding the coy fish.  He made his way out down the long paths between shady trees to where his brother was.

"What do you want this time?" asked the older brother.

"Tomorrow is New Year and I have little rice for wife and children to celebrate.  Could I borrow some?  I will return whatever you are able to spare later in the year."

"No!  You should not be so generous.  Maybe if you were more like me, you would not have to come scrounging for food on New Years Eve. Go!  And don't come back!"

The younger brother rowed back to the main land and returned the boat.  As he trudged home, he felt the weight of the world upon his shoulders.  As he was walking, an old man called out to him: “What is it that bothers you so, young man? You bend your back down like mine!”  The young brother looked up and saw the man was carrying a bundle of firewood on his back.

Image used with permission from the artist Sean Herman - via DeviantArt
“Here,” said the young man. “Let me carry that and I will tell you my story,” which he did.  When they reached the old man’s house, the man pointed to a wall and said: “See that gap in the wall?”  The young man nodded.  “Well, go in there and you will see a statue of Buddha and beneath, some tiny people.  Give the little men this rice cake.” The old man gave the young brother a rice cake whose top was coated with honey. “But only when they offer you a stone mortar.  Go on! Go!”

The young brother was puzzled, but thanked the old man and made his way through the gap in the wall and saw the stature of Buddha.  A tiny shriek came from by his feet, and when he looked he saw, he found he had trodden on one of the little men. “I ma so sorry,” he said.  “You are so small I did not see you there.  Are you alright?”  He lifted the wee fellow up and apologized again.  The wee fellow saw the rice cake.

“What’s that?” asked the little man.  “It smells so good! Can I have it?”

“This is very valuable to me. What would you give me in exchange?”

The little man asked to be put down and he went and talked to his friends. When he looked back up at the young brother he said: “How about yards of silk?”

“No, this cake is more precious to me than silk,” said the young brother.

The little man ran back and talked with his friends again and came back and said: “Well, what about a large bag of gold?”

“I am not sure,” said the young brother.  “What else might you have?”

The little man ran back to his friends and a great deal of whispering began.  Eventually the little fellow came back and said: “We have a stone mortar.  Would you take that?”

“That sounds like a fair trade,” said the young brother. So out came the stone mortar and the brother handed the little men the rice cake.  As the young brother turned, the wee man called out: “Wait!  You need to listen.  That is a magic mortar. It will give you whatever you want.  All you need to do, is sing what you want and turn the pestle clockwise.  When you have enough, stop the pestle and turn it counter-clockwise and sing stop!”

The young brother could not believe his luck and ran home after thanking the little gentlemen.

When he got home his wife asked if he had rice and said, no but had something better.  He pulled out the stone mortar and told her about the old gentleman and the little men.

“Does it work?” she asked.  The young brother looked at his wife and said: “Let’s find out.”

He held the mortar in one hand and turned the pestle clockwise with the other, and sang:
“Rice, rice, can we have some rice? Rice, rice, can we have some rice?” And the pestle suddenly speeded up and rice began to flow up from the bottom of the mortar until it overflowed onto the floor!  The younger brother called out: “Stop, stop, we have enough rice! Stop, stop, we have enough rice!” and the pestle stopped turning and the rice stopped.  The husband and wife smiled at each other.  The younger brothers wife asked if he could ask for wine.  They got a vessel and the younger brother tilted the mortar over it and sang: “Wine, wine, can we have some wine?” and the pestle took itself from his hand and spun faster and out flowed wine, until he sang it to stop.

The younger brother was ecstatic! “We could have a great party and invite all our neighbours over!”  But his wife said their house was not big enough for all the neighbours. So the younger brother took the mortar in one hand and turned the pestle clockwise with the other, and sang: “House, house, can we have a bigger house?” and shots were heard and the house began to grow new walls and as the house grew it was filled with fine furniture until the younger brother sang the mortar to stop. Which it did.

And so they asked their neighbours to come and celebrate New Year with them. And the next day, on New Years Day, they came.  Many were surprised to see the new house and the fine clothes and furniture the younger brother and his wife now had, but people were too polite to ask where it had come from.

Well the older brother heard about the celebrations and came to join in.  When he saw the new wealth, of course he had to ask: “Yesterday you came to me asking for rice and now you have all this!  How did you come by all your new wealth?”

The younger brother knew not to tell his older brother, so said “I suppose that it came because of my kindness and a lot of luck!” But he said no more.

People feasted and laughed and played until late.  When people began to leave, the younger brother said, wait.  “I want to give all the children who have come a little gift.  Wait one moment.”  He went off to the kitchen and the older brother quietly followed and saw the younger brother pick up the stone mortar and sing it to produce sweet candy curd cakes.

“Arr is that how it is done, is it?” and he sneaked back to the others.  But, he did not see how the mortar was stopped.  After the other guests had left, the older brother asked his younger brother if he could stay the night.  “I have eaten too much and my belly aches.”

“Of course you can,” replied the younger brother. So he and his wife took out a tatmi mat for sleeping and laid it out for the older brother.  But as soon as the younger brother and his wife were asleep, the older brother got up and stole the mortar and took it with him to his boat and began to make his way over the waters to his island.  He was thirsty and hungry, despite what he had told his brother so looked around his boat and found some un-salted rice cakes. He picked up the mortar and holding the pestle sang out, “Give me salt, give me salt!” and salt began to fill the mortar.  He sprinkled some on his rice cake and ate it, putting the mortar down on the deck of the boat.  But the mortar continued to make salt.  As he rowed he found the boat getting harder and harder to row and then realized that the boat was filling with salt.  He tried to stop the mortar but in his panic did not say the right words, and could not have even if he knew the right words to say.  He tried bailing the boat out, but it sank and took the older brother with it as well as the mortar.

And because no one has asked the mortar to stop making salt, it still makes salt to this day.  Which is why the seas are filled with salt.

 Retelling copyright (C) 2012.  Do not copy, duplicate or reproduce in any form.  It's illegal and NOT cool.

Ready to Tell Tales, by Holt and Mooney
The Magic Listening Cap: More Folk Tales from Japan, by Yoshiko Uchinda
Benjamin Franklin Literary & Medical Society, Inc.
Sting of the Geisha by M. M. Rumberg

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