A folktale of Yamagata

"The Search for the Naranashi Pear"
read Vietnam chinese

A long, long time ago, three brothers lived with their mother. Their names were Taro, Jiro and Saburo. One day, their mother became ill and although they tried to give her several kinds of medicine, she only grew worse and they feared she was going to die. “Mother, please have something to eat,” they told her. “I don’t feel like much, but I fancy eating a Naranashi Pear,” she replied. Bearing a basket, the eldest son, Taro, left the house. When he asked where a Naranashi Pear could be found, he was told that it was a pear that grew on the Mountain of No Return. One bite of the fruit would cure any sickness. However, a demon lived on this mountain and he ate people. So no one ever came back from the Mountain of No Return, hence the name. Even so, “If my mother wants to eat it, I must go,” said Taro and he set out for the mountain.

As Taro climbed the mountain path, he came upon a large rock at the top of which an old woman was sitting. Taro tried to move on without glancing at her. However, she called out to him, “Where are you going?” “I am going to pick Naranashi Pears on the Mountain of No Return,” he replied. The old woman looked concerned and shook her head slowly. “If you carry on a little further, the path breaks into three and you will find three bamboo bushes there. Listen carefully to what the bamboo bushes say. They will whisper, “go back,” or “go forward.” If they say, “go forward,” then walk along the path they have directed you to. Carry on further until you come to a river. If it says, “Babble, turn back, babble,” then turn back.” But Taro wasn’t listening properly to the old woman and replied half-heartedly, “Whatever, whatever. I understand.”

Taro made his way to where the path split into three. Three bamboo bushes stood here and they were whispering to him. But as Taro had not listened properly to the old woman’s story, he paid no attention to the bushes, and he carried on. Unfortunately, the path he chose was the one from which he should have turned back. When he came to a river it said, “Babble, turn back, babble.” Even Taro was concerned about this and he stood still for a while. “But I’ve come all this way. It would be a shame to turn back now,” he said. He splashed through the water and he lost his footing where the river was deep and was swept away until he was at last washed up on the bank at the other side. In front of him was a swamp by the side of which was a single giant pear tree. He looked up to see that its branches were laden with fruit. “This must be it,” he said and climbed up, hanging the basket on the branches. Taro’s body cast a shadow over the swamp and a huge snake with a red tongue leaped out from the depths of the swamp, attacked Taro, and swallowed him in a single gulp.

At home, everyone waited for Taro’s return but he did not appear. Jiro decided that it was his turn next and he left home carrying a basket. Jiro climbed the mountain path. He too came upon a large rock at the top of which an old woman was sitting. The old woman told Jiro the same things she had told Taro, and just like him, Jiro made the same mistakes and was also eaten by the snake.

No matter how long Saburo waited for his brothers they did not return and it was Saburo’s turn to bear a basket and leave home. Saburo climbed the mountain path. He came upon the large rock at the top of which the old woman was sitting. He approached the old woman and said, “Please, old lady, I have a question to ask of you. My brothers left home to search for Naranashi Pears on the mountain, but they never came back. Do you know anything about them?” “You’re a good lad. Please take care. Your brothers did not listen to me. That is why they did not return. Listen to what the bamboo bushes tell you. Listen to what the river tells you. Listen to what the tree tells you,” she said, handing Saburo a sword. Saburo said thank you and carried on along the mountain path.

After a while, he came to a fork in the path where it split into three. Three bamboo bushes stood here. Saburo kept very still and listened to what the bamboo bushes were telling him. “Go ahead,” they told him and Saburo carried along the path they had directed him to until he came upon a river. Once more, he stood very still listening to what the river told him and it said, “Go ahead, babble. Go ahead, babble.” Following the instructions of the river, he came across a swamp by the side of which was a huge pear tree with branches laden with fruit. Once again Saburo stood still and listened. “The east is dangerous. The west is dangerous. You will cast a shadow if you go north. Go south and climb,” the pear tree told him. Saburo followed the tree’s instructions and approached from the south, after which he climbed the tree.

When Saburo climbed the tree, he noticed the baskets of his proud brothers hanging on the branches of the pear tree. “Oh, my brothers got this far, too,” he thought and prodding the branch with his foot Saburo’s shadow was cast over the swamp. He saw the surface of the water stir and the master of the swamp, a huge snake with a red tongue, flew at Saburo. He waited for the right timing and raised the sword the old lady had given him. He cut the snake in half and killed it. And would you believe it, two voices were heard from the depths of the snake’s stomach. “It’s Saburo, it’s Saburo,” they cried.

Saburo cut open the snake’s stomach with the sword and lo and behold, the emaciated figures of Taro and Jiro emerged. Saburo gave his brothers Naranashi Pears to eat. Consuming the fruit, they both recovered their strength and the three brothers filled their baskets full of the pears and returned home to feed them to their sickly mother. The more she ate, the better she became until she returned to full health and was the mother the brothers remembered.The family of four lived happily ever after.And the moral of this story? Just as Saburo paid attention to the old woman, we should all listen to our elders.