June 5, 2011

Old children's picture book

After the March earthquake and subsequent tsunami, many people in Japan remembered an very old story about burning rice field to warn the coming of deadly tsunami.
I happened to find a children’s picture book in English based on this story.

"The Buring Rice Fields"
By Sara Cone Bryant
With pictures by Mamoru Funai

Long ago in Japan, an old man and his grandson care for some fields of rice that grew on the top of mountain where the land was flat and rich. The rice belong to the fishermen who lived in a village at the foot of the mountain.

The sea came up so close to the village that there was no room for anything but houses at the foot of the mountain; so the fishermen planted their fields of rice higher up on the mountaintop and asked the old man and his grandson to care for the precious grain.

One day as the old man was looking out sea, he saw something that made him cry out in fear. He passed his hand across his eyes, and looked again. Then he shouted at his grandson, “Run! Run to the houses and get me a fire brand!”

The boy never before had heard his grandfather speak so sharply, and he was greatly frightened. Nevertheless, he ran to the house as he had been commanded and pulled a flaming brand from the hearth. When he returned, the old man grabbed the brand and ran off through the rice field, thrusting the flame into the ripe, dry rice.

Within moments the fields of rice were ablaze. The crackling flames ran up the dray stalks, and fierce dark smoke poured from the side of the mountain.
“Grandfather! Grandfather!” sobbed the little boy. !What are you doing? Stop, Grandfather! Please stop!”

When the villagers looked, up they saw their precious rice fields afire. Ah! How they ran. Men, women and children scrambled up the mountainside to fight the fire. Not a single person in the village stayed behind.

And when they came to the mountain fields and saw the rice-crops all in flames, they cried bitterly, “How did it happen? How did it happen?”
“I set fire” said the old man solemnly.
“Yes,” said the little boy, “Grandfather set fire.”
Hearing this, the villagers became very angry. They crowed fiercely around the old man, shouting, “Why? Why?”

The old man remained calm. “Look” he said, pointing to the sea.
The villagers turned and looked. There, when an hour before the waves had played so quietly, now a mighty wall of water was rolling in. The sight was so terrifying that no one spoke.

The water rolled in over the village, lifting the houses and tossing them into the air. Wave after wave crashed against the mountainside. Then it was over. All was still. The village had disappeared under the sea.

When the people realized what the old man had done, they honored him above all others.


Devika said...

Nice story and thanks for sharing Kuni-san....when free i hold story telling sessions for children over here, and i may use it...i myself like these stories which speaks the wisdom of the old, who perhaps have lived through many catastrophes/disasters,


Devika said...

on reading again from a child's viewpoint...the story raises some questions like how the people survived...but then 'there are no questions in stories' is what we are used to telling children :)

just thought of sharing that thought too, Kuni-san :)


Devika said...

Oh again - i note that answers are built into this beautifully woven story, Kuni-san...may be earlier i was reading fast and thought of people caught between water and fire/smoke....taking a copy out for children, made me read it again and closely...we do it when we have to retell stories to children :)


Gillena Cox said...

great story Kuni san; thank you for sharing, much love...

Gwilym Williams said...

Unfortunately the story continues (in reality) and it goes something like this -
"The old man instructed the villagers to erect stones on the hillside above the village to mark the point the waters had reached. This the people did. And nobody built his house below the line of stones for many generations. But then one day the stranger appeared; a certain Mr Tepco came to the village on the hill and told the people the ancient stones served no purpose and the people should move back down to the coast and help Mr Tepco and his friends Mr Ge and Mr Banks to build great machines powered by uranium and plutonium which is called MOX and which would boil water and make everybody so rich so that everyone could have a new car and a flat-screen TV and eat sushi in the 4th richest industrial nation in the world . . . and very soon the villagers completely forgot about the stones on the hill and the legend of the wise old man . . .

kuni_san said...

Gwilym san: Interesting development in the story. Thanks for the input.