A folktale of Fukushima

Why Buckwheat Stems are Red
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A long, long time ago a woman lived together with her two daughters in a mountain village.

One day, the mother left home saying, "I have something to attend to. You two girls must take care of the house. Sometimes a mountain hag appears in these mountains, so whatever you do, please do not open the door."

Perhaps the very same mountain hag had been waiting for the mother to leave, because a while after the mother departed, she stood in front of the house saying, "Your mother has come home. Open the door and let me in."

The two girls realized that their mother could not be back so soon, and they said, "Your voice is too gruff to be our mother's. She has a much prettier voice."

"Oh, I see," replied the mountain hag. She flew back into the depths of the mountain and boiled some water with adzuki beans in it. She drank this and returned to the girls' house. After drinking the adzuki bean water, her voice had become smoother.

"Oh, girls. Your mother has returned home. Open the door and let me in," she said.

The two girls were nearly convinced, so the peaked through a small hole in the sliding paper door. However, they caught sight of the mountain hag's black hands.

"Your hands are too black to be our mother's," they said.

"Oh, I see," said the mountain hag and she flew back into the depths of the mountain and covered her hands in barley flour or buckwheat flour until they were white. She returned to the girls' house.

"Look at my hands! They are so white! Open the door and see how pretty they are," she said.

As the sun had nearly set and the light was dim, it was difficult to see through the hole in the sliding door, so they opened the front door.

The mountain hag took advantage of this, swinging the door open and entered the house. "Little girls, I am going to eat you!" she said.

The two sisters were scared out of their wits and tried to escape. They fled from the house in their bare feet as there was no time to put on their geta* or zori**. The two girls scampered away as fast as they could.

"Big sister, where are you running to? Where?" cried the younger sister to her older sibling. There had been no time for them to think about where they should hide, they just fled. But before long they came upon a temple. By the side of the temple was a huge maple tree.

"Let's climb to the top of the tree. We can escape by climbing to the top," and the two girls inched their way to the top of the maple tree.

The mountain hag was following in their footsteps. "These children are so fast. Where are they? Where are they?" Although she had done her best to keep up, she had lost sight of them.

Right beneath the maple tree where the girls were hiding there was a well.

"Ah, they must be inside," thought the mountain hag and she peered into it. As it was a moonlit night, the mountain hag could see the reflection of the two girls hiding at the top of the tree in the well water.

"Ah, so they're at the top of the tree," said the mountain hag to herself and although she tried to climb up the tree as well, she was unsuccessful.

"Girls, now how did you manage to climb up such a tall tree?" she asked the two girls.

"We greased the tree with oil taken from our mother's oil bottle," they lied.

"Oh, I see," she said. And without realizing that she was being lied to, the mountain hag returned to the house and brought back with her a pot of rapeseed oil, which she threw over the maple tree. No matter how she tried, she slipped and was unable to climb.

"Now, tell me girls, how did you really climb the tree? If you lie to me, I will bring more mountain hags with me from the depths of the mountain and we'll swallow you whole!" said the mountain hag.

"Bring a felling axe to gouge out footholds and climb up that way," the girls replied.

"Oh, I see."

The mountain hag went to fetch a felling axed and hacked out footholds in the tree and climbed up with all her might. When she reached the top, she caught hold of the girls and was about to eat them when the girls cried out in fear. "Please heavenly gods, save us! Please heavenly gods, save us!"

Upon which heavenly gods appeared carrying golden chains and they threw these chains down towards the tree. As the girls clung onto them, they were carried up high into the sky.

As the girls the mountain hag had been ready to eat were whipped off into the sky she called out saying, "Oh, heavenly gods, please throw the a chain to me as well!"

Now, in Japanese the word for "chain" (kusari) sounds just like kusaru, the word for "rusty." So the heavenly gods threw a rusty chain down to her.

The mountain hag was delighted as she caught hold of the chain and started to climb up it. However, as the chain was rusty, it came apart and the mountain hag dropped into a field below and died.

The field into which the mountain hag fell was a buckwheat field, so the reason why buckwheat stems are red is because they are stained with the blood of the mountain hag.

*geta – Japanese wooden clogs
**zori – Japanese sandals