As I study more Japanese, I am trying to read old Japanese folk tales for children. Although English stories such as Peter Rabbit are popular here, so are several famous Japanese stories that I had never heard of prior to coming to Japan. The first story I picked up was 鶴の恩返し (tsuru no ongaeshi), which roughly translates to “The Crane’s Return of Favor”, or “The Grateful Crane.” It is about a poor field worker who helps an injured crane. Soon after, a mysterious woman enters his life and brings him wealth. My wonderful co-worker Miki-san helped me translate the text as I read the book. Read Miki-san’s translation below.
I find Japanese folklore very interesting because the stories don’t necessarily end happily. Most often, elements of Buddhism and the Shinto religion play an important role in the tales, as does nature and altruism. If you want to read more translations, I stumbled upon this Website, which has an English text for several popular Japanese tales.
The Crane’s Return of Favor
Once upon a time, there was a young man. He worked very hard in the field. But he was poor. One day, he found an injured crane. “Oh, what a sad thing!,” he said. He felt very sorry for the crane, so he decided to take care of it. He nursed the injured crane back to health, and it flew away.
One day in the night, a very beautiful young woman visited his house. “May I please stay here?” she asked. The young man was very surprised, but he said yes. They lived together and were very happy. One night, she said to him, “I am going in this room to work. Don’t open the door completely. Please don’t watch me.” He said OK and went to bed.
The next morning, she gave him a very beautiful cloth. “Please, sell this cloth,” she said. He sold it in town for a lot of money. At the market, everyone said, “How beautiful!” The young man started to become very rich. Every night, the young woman would return to the room, and every time, she would tell him “Don’t watch me!” She became very slender, so one night, the young man went to check on her. He opened the door and gasped. There was a crane weaving its own feathers.
“Oh my gosh! You look completely different!” he said. “Sorry! Sorry!”
The crane replied, “I was the crane that you helped. I came to your house to repay you for your kindness. But you know the truth now, so we cannot live together anymore.”
The next morning, the crane flew away. And she never came back.