Monkey Jizo

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Here’s another short book report from the same folk tale series as Mouse’s Marriage. I bought several books at the same time from the 100 yen shop. They are simply bound, but in traditional style; and on inexpensive paper, but printed to appear like traditional paper. Even Japanese friends are amazed at what can be had for 100 yen these days. Last time I promised I would include photos and – although delayed a little further – I will fulfill that.

Monkey Jizo (or さるじぞう, in Japanese) caught my attention early on. Many of the folk tales, although directed at children, are quite creepy (and I have no fondness for horror), so I found the more innocent appearance inviting. Furthermore, the title prompted all sorts of imaginative ideas about what the covers might contain, yet the story remained elusive until I read it. Let this not imply that the story is complex in anyway however, on the contrary, it is simply a fun children’s story of a moral nature.

Like so many Japanese tales, it begins with a poor old farmer. Working in his field in the mountain, he takes a break to eat mochi with kinako sprinkled on top. Wind blows kinako all over him, and without cleaning himself off, he takes a nap. Monkeys come out to investigate and mistake him for Jizo – a Boddhisatva whose likeness appears in small statues under little shelters along pathways all over Japan – presumably because the speckles of kinako make him look like stone.

According to the boss monkey’s orders, they haul him across the river to place him in a vacant Jizo shelter; however, while crossing the river some events unfold. First, the monkeys sing a silly work song about willingly wetting their willies in order to keep Jizo’s willy water-free. Even though the old man is awakened and humored, he toughs it out, stifling his laughter. Second, midway through the stream, the old man looses a smelly fart, prompting a discussion about the source of the noise and the subsequent odor. With a little help from the old man’s slyly mumbled comments amidst the confusion, it is decided that they heard a shrine bell and were smelling incense. Clearly they are carrying a true Jizo in their estimation.

After ensconcing him in the shelter they cast offerings of gold and silver coins before him. Outwaiting the monkeys, once he is alone, the old man scoops up the loot and heads home to share his tale with his wife. The greedy and nosey neighborwoman listens carefully and badgers her husband into a plan for riches. He agrees but stumbles clumsily through the process, ultimately bursting out laughing at the song mid-river. Outraged by the deception, and prone to rash action – as monkeys are known to be – they cast the man headlong into the drink. He finds his way home, tired and wet.

Reading the ending makes me wonder if Japanese tales have been toned down in the same manner as Western folktales over the recent decades. Did the original tale end in disaster for the husband of the greedy wife?

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