My Lord Bag of Rice - Japanese Fairy Tale Adapted by Jill Mountain
1) A long time ago a brave warrior lived in Japan. Even though his real name was Fujiwara Hidesato, he was known to all as Tawara Toda, or “My Lord Bag of Rice.” The story of how he derived that nickname is an exciting tale of courage, commitment, and adventure.
2) When the warrior Hidesato was a young man, he decided one day that he had had enough of the safety of life in the palace, and he set off in search of adventure. He came upon a bridge spanning a beautiful lake, Lake Biwa. There, lying in the middle of the bridge was a huge serpent-dragon. Its body was as broad as the trunk of a large tree, and it spanned the entire width of the bridge. One of the serpent’s claws rested on the railing on one side of the bridge, while its tail draped over the railing on the other side. The monster seemed to be sleeping, and when it breathed gently in and out, fire and smoke came out of its nostrils.
3) At first, Hidesato was alarmed, as even the bravest warrior would be. He understood that he had two choices: he could turn back, or he could try to walk over the beast without awakening it. Intent upon demonstrating the bravery he’d long known he possessed, Hidesato moved forward. He flinched at the first “crunch” as his boots set down on the beast’s scaly skin, but nonetheless, he proceeded, endeavoring the scale of the serpent.
4) He had gone just a few steps when he heard someone calling him. He looked behind him, but saw no one; he looked forward, but saw no one. When he turned around again, he was surprised to see that the dragon had disappeared, and in its place stood a strange looking man who was bowing to him. The man’s red hair streamed over his shoulders and on his head he wore a crown shaped like a dragon’s head. The man wore a sea-green gown, covered with a pattern of sea shells.
5) Hidesato knew this was not a mere mortal man and he wondered what had happened. Where did the dragon go? Had the dragon transformed into this man? Hidesato, the brave warrior, stepped forward and addressed the strange being. “Was it you who just called my name?” “Yes, it was,” answered the man. “I have a request to make of you. Do you think you can grant my request?” “I am the Dragon King of the lake, and my home is in these waters, just under this bridge.” “And what do you ask of me?” said Hidesato.
6) “I want you to kill my mortal enemy, the centipede, who lives on the mountain beyond,” said the Dragon King as he pointed to a high mountain on the opposite shore. “I have lived now for many years in this lake. I have a large family, with many children and many grandchildren. For decades we have lived happily in these waters.” “Lately, though, we have lived in terror,” the Dragon King continued. “The giant centipede has discovered we are here and now, night after night, he comes down from the mountain and carries off a member of my family. I am desperate, and I need the help of a human being. I have been waiting on this bridge for days, hoping a strong, brave human would come along. Until you, however, everyone who came by was terrified by the sight of me in my serpent-state and ran away. You are the first person who has been able to look at me in the form of a dragon and not flee in terror. I knew at once you were a man of great courage, and now, I ask you to help me vanquish my enemy and save my family.”
7) Hidesato followed the Dragon King under the bridge. As Hidesato moved toward the lake, the waters parted. Although Hidesato walked through a tunnel of water, not a single drop dampened his clothes as he made his way to the palace. Hidesato caught his breath when he saw the Dragon King’s beautiful home. It was built of gleaming white marble. All of the servants were salt water fish. Beautiful goldfish, red carp, and silvery trout waited on the Dragon King and his honored guest.
8) Later that night, Hidesato was treated to a magnificent feast of crystalized flowers and lotus leaves. He had almost forgotten what prompted his invitation to the wonderful, underwater kingdom. Then, suddenly, the room began to shake, as though a tremendous army were marching toward it. Hidesato’s bow and arrows were brought to him. He noticed he had just three arrows left in his quiver. He took the bow, fitted the first arrow into it and let it fly toward the centipede’s head. The arrow struck the centipede directly in the head, but instead of penetrating the creature’s skull, it bounced off harmlessly.
9) Undaunted, Hidesato fitted the second arrow into his bow. He let it fly, and again it bounced harmlessly off the centipede’s skull. Suddenly, the Dragon King began to weep. The warrior noted that he had one arrow, and just one chance to save his friend and himself. Suddenly, Hidesato remembered an old children’s story that human saliva was deadly to centipedes. “Even so,” he thought, “This really isn’t a normal centipede.” Nonetheless, Hidesato took up his last arrow. He spit upon the tip. He fitted the arrow into the bow and let it fly. The arrow hit the centipede in the middle of its head, but this time, instead of bouncing off, it struck deep into the creature’s brain and brought him to the ground. A great thunder rose up from the mountain, then the clouds parted, the moon shone, and the night was suddenly very quiet. Hidesato called his friend. “You are safe,” he said to the Dragon King. “Your enemy has been vanquished.”
10) Finally, Hidesato announced he had to return home. The Dragon King and his family were sad to see the warrior leave, but understood and as they said good bye on the bridge, the King begged the warrior to accept four modest gifts that would express their gratitude. Hidesato tried to decline, but the King was insistent. From the lake came a troop of red carp who transformed into men when they stepped upon land. They each carried a gift: First, a large bronze bell Second, a bag of rice Third, a roll of silk Fourth, a cooking pot
11) Hidesato returned to his village with the King’s gifts. The bell, which had no magical powers was hung in the nearby temple. The single bag of rice provided meals for his family, day after day, and always remained full. The roll of silk, similarly, could be cut every day, and never grow shorter, and, finally, the cooking pot provided a magical power so that it needed no fire, yet cooked anything placed inside of it to perfection. Hidesato never had to spend money on rice or silk or fire, and grew wealthy and powerful. He was, from then on, known as “My Lord Bag of Rice,” as all in his village recognized his wealth was a consequence of his kindness and his bravery.