- The Straw Millionaire -
- A Japanese Folktale -
Mukashi mukashi, aru hito no bimbōnin ga imashita....
A long time ago, there lived a poor man. Without a home of his own, he wandered from place to place, seeking work wherever he went. Often, with nowhere else to go, he would sleep in Buddhist temples.
Every time he slept in a temple, he would pray to Kannon, Goddess of Mercy. Never asking for much, he would pray only to find work again the next day, and a place to sleep.
One night, as he prayed, a golden light illuminated the room, and the Goddess Kannon appeared to him. Commending him for his thrift and modesty, she promised to reward him with happiness and a good life. "Tomorrow, the very first thing you touch shall be the source of great good fortune to you," the goddess said, and vanished.
Confused but joyful, the pauper slept through the night, and rose next day to set off in search of work. On his way out of the temple gate, he tripped over a stone, and fell to his knees. Where his hands touched the ground, they came into contact with a few stalks of scattered straw. Rising up, he clutched the straw, remembering the words of the goddess.
Puzzled, he walked on, and presently a horsefly began to buzz around his face. After having tried to wave the horsefly away, he finally caught it and tied one end of the straw around it. The horsefly buzzed in circles, trying to escape, but could not.
A small boy from a wealthy family, standing nearby, saw the horsefly and laughed. He turned to his guardian and demanded a horsefly on a straw, to play with. The pauper generously gave the horsefly to the boy, and the boy's guardian, in fairness, gave him three tangerines in return.
Continuing down the road, he came upon a man who was very thirsty. Seeing this, the pauper generously gave the man his tangerines, and the man gave him a roll of silk cloth in return. The pauper marvelled at his luck, and in his heart thanked the goddess.
On he walked, and soon came upon two samurai standing by a horse which was obviously exhausted. Cursing their horse's uselessness, the two samurai were only too happy to trade it for the roll of silk, and they continued on their way, laughing at the foolish peasant who would exchange valuable silk for a faltering nag.
Gently, the pauper cared for the horse, giving it water and letting it rest, as the samurai had not. Soon, the animal recovered, and the pauper continued along the road, leading the horse.
Before long, he came upon a party of people preparing to leave on a journey. They were loading their luggage onto handcarts, and preparing to pull them along. The pauper spoke to the head of the household, offering him the horse, and the man in return offered him a plot of land to farm, and the right to stay in the house while the household was away.
Now with a farm of his own, the pauper worked hard and took good care of the house. When the owner returned from his travels, he found the house well cared for, and the fields burgeoning with crops. Impressed with the pauper's efforts, he offered him his daughter as a bride, and took him into his family.
The pauper-no-more married the rich man's daughter and they had many healthy children. As time went by, the former pauper inherited the lands and became known for his generosity. To all the villagers, he was Warashibe Chōja, "the straw millionaire". He lived a long and happy life, and he never let a day go by without thanking the goddess for her mercy and generosity.
This is a common Japanese folktale, familiar to most Japanese children as a perennial favourite among komori-banashi, bedtime stories. Tell it to your own children, it's fun and it teaches a valuable lesson.