Hanasaka Jijii

- The Old Man Who Made the Flowers Bloom -

Drawing of Hanasaka Jijii digging up coins


Somewhere, sometime long ago, there lived an old man and an old woman.

They were honest, good people, but had no children. Happily, they had a pet dog named Shiro and loved him like a child. In return, Shiro loved them dearly.

Next door lived another old man and old woman. But these two were a greedy couple and hated that dirty dog Shiro next door and were always spiteful to him.

One day, the honest old man went out with his hoe to turn the field, as he always did. Shiro also came with him. He sniffed around and suddenly tugged on the old man's cuff and took him beneath a large nettle tree at the corner of the field. As his front legs poked at the ground, he barked, "Woof! Woof! Dig here! Woof! Woof! Dig here!"

"What? What is it?" the old man asked as he started digging with his hoe, soon he heard tinkling sounds. Something bright glittered at the bottom of the hole. He began to dig faster and uncovered many gold coins. The old man was shocked and shouted for the honest old woman. Heave ho! Together they carried the coins into their house.

The honest old man and woman were instantly rich.

Drawing of Hanasaka Jijii pounding rice


The greedy old man next door heard them, became very envious, and came to borrow the dog. Because the honest old man was a good man, he foolishly loaned Shiro. The greedy old man tied a rope around the hated Shiro's neck and briskly dragged him out to his field.

"There must be gold coins buried in my field, too. Where are they? Where are they?"

As he spoke, he pulled too hard and hurt Shiro as he carelessly dragged him across the ground. The greedy old man said, "Okay, here? Good. Right here," and started digging. He dug and dug, but only pebbles and tile fragments came out. That didn't bother him, he kept on digging and was hit by a stinky smell. Dirty, nasty things spilled out in swarms. The greedy old man shouted, "It stinks!" and held his nose. In a moment of anger, he raised the hoe and dropped it down on Shiro's head. Poor Shiro let out a cry and died.

The honest old man and woman must have been terribly sad. But there was nothing they could do, so as they weeped, they took Shiro's body, dug a hole in a corner of their garden, and respectfully buried him. Instead of a tombstone, they planted a small pine tree above him. In the twinkling of an eye, the tree grew into a fine, huge tree.

"This is a memorial to Shiro," said the old man and cut down the tree, and made a mortar.

"Shiro loved rice balls."

He placed rice in the mortar and together with the old woman started to pound the rice.

Whack! Thump! Whack! Thump!

Mysteriously, as they pounded and pounded, the rice multiplied, filled the mortar, and spilled out before their eyes. Soon the whole kitchen was filled with rice.

Drawing of Hanasaka Jijii making flowers bloom


This time too, the greedy old man and woman next door found out about the rice and were filled with envy. The shameless pair borrowed the mortar. The kind old man and woman carelessly loaned it.

After borrowing the mortar, the greedy old man quickly put rice inside, then the old woman and he began pounding the rice.

Whack! Thump! Whack! Thump!

When the rice started to gush out, a stinky smell rose, and swarms of some dirty things came out out of the mortar and filled the kitchen. The kitchen was crammed with these filthy things.

Again the greedy old man flew into a rage and smashed the mortar into firewood.

The honest old man went to get his mortar back and was surprised to find it had been turned into ashes. But what's done is done, and there was nothing he could do. While disappointed, he gathered the ashes in a bamboo basket and returned home feeling sad.

"Honey, Shiro's pine tree has been turned to ashes," said the old man. Holding the ashes, he went to Shiro's grave at the corner of the garden. From out of nowhere, a hissing, hot wind blew and scattered the ashes over the whole garden. Then where the withered tree stood, a plum tree and a cherry blossom tree sprouted blossoms while he watched. Oddly, it was the middle of winter, and only the old man's garden looked like springtime.

The old man clapped his hands in joy.

"This is fantastic. I'll make the flowers bloom on all the trees around here.

Then the old man grabbed the ashes left in the basket. He shouted as he walked back and forth.

This old man makes flowers bloom!
This old man makes flowers bloom!
Japan's number one old man makes flowers bloom.
On withered trees, I'll make flowers bloom.

As he did, a lord from some far off land came riding a horse accompanied by his many vassals on his way home from a hunt.

The lord called to the old man and said, "That was amazing. Show me how to make the flowers bloom on that withered cherry blossom tree."

The old man quickly grabbed the basket and raised it to the cherry blossom tree. As he chanted, he grabbed the ashes and sprinkled them around.

Gold cherry blossoms, rustle in the wind.
Silver cherry blossoms, rustle in the wind.

As they watched, all the flowers bloomed.

"That was amazing. What a mystery."

The lord praised the old man and rewarded him greatly.

Once again, the greedy old man next door heard this and became envious. He scraped together the remaining ashes and put them in a bamboo basket. Then he imitated the honest old man, he shouted as he walked back and forth.

This old man makes flowers bloom!
This old man makes flowers bloom!
Japan's number one old man makes flowers bloom.
On withered trees, I'll make flowers bloom.

As he did, the Lord passed by and said, "Another old man who makes the flowers bloom. Let me see the flowers bloom again."

Looking confident, the greedy old man grabbed the basket holding the ashes and raised it to the cherry blossom tree, and repeated the chant.

Gold cherry blossoms, rustle in the wind.
Silver cherry blossoms, rustle in the wind.

The ashes wildly blew around, but none of the flowers bloomed.

Suddenly a strong gust of wind blew, and the ashes went everywhere, including into the eyes and noses of the Lord and his vassals. It was chaos as they rubbed their eyes, sneezed, and brushed ashes out of their hair. The Lord was enraged, "You are a fake old man who doesn't make flowers bloom. You scoundrel!"

He had the greedy old man tied up and taken to jail as the old man said, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Drawing of greedy old man being punished in Hanasaka Jijii

Now that you know the story, here are three picture books from the Meiji era.

Read Kachi-Kachi Yama - Crackling Mountain.

© 2017 Shelley Marshall