Friday, 21 August 2009

Folktales – A Good Grandmother

The recent and continual earth tremors make me anxious about my parents. They live in the central part of Japan, the area which has been predicted to be the next epicentre – in a house full of books.

As a child, I preferred foreign fairytales to Japanese folktales but my father’s bed time stories were always the latter. Stories consisted of farmers and animals, with the occasional entrance of affable giants or long-snouted goblins, but they still appeared in ordinary village settings.

Common characters included two sets of old farmer couples – good and bad grandfathers and grandmothers. A good couple is always poor but happy and kind to others. There is never enough food in the household, but whenever they find animals starving, they happily share the last food left in their wretched abode. In return, animals offer two types of gifts – one is visibly larger than the other. A good grandfather chooses a smaller box without a moment’s hesitation because it is sufficient for their needs. The gift subsequently makes the couple the wealthiest in the village and they live happily ever after.

A bad couple hears the rumour, forces animals to eat and then demands a similar gift in return. The bad grandfather chooses the larger box without realising that it will later bring misfortune and destroy their lives completely.

Every time I heard a similar plot, my eyes widened and I could no longer sleep peacefully. Would I share my food with animals? Would I choose a small box? I could not be certain how I would behave if I were in that situation. My father should have read the stories about princesses and knights in faraway lands instead.

In real life farming practice, you soon realise ‘goodness’ with a humble and caring attitude is an important factor in order to be a cooperative member of a local farming community. You share the land borders, roads, water, animals, machines and labour, so the existence of a tangible common morality is somewhat a necessity. Be honest, generous, level, and suppress greed, so that something good may come to you when you are least expecting it.

Tsukushi farm is supported by such great neighbouring grandfathers and grandmothers who own property which is now too large for their needs. They gently watch over how we develop the field, in a manner which must appear contrary to the way they have striven under governmental reforms for the past five decades – leaving overgrown grass, not using technology or chemicals, and producing very small crops which do not meet existing market standards. With smiles on their faces, they kindly tell us that they will simply look forward to seeing fertile soil with a rich harvest and heavily laden fruit trees resplendent in front of them.

A good grandmother. One day, I may be able to choose a small box without a second’s thought.

昔話 -良いおばあさん









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