Friday, March 11, 2011

The Burning of the Rice Fields

Thinking of all students and teachers this morning, in light of the earthquake and aftershocks and tsunami in Japan. Thinking that the subject will come up with their students at some point over the next few days and weeks, the following is a story from Japan I often told following the 2004 Asian Tsunami, which I wanted to make available for educators for use if needed and desired.

Angela Klingler ~ The Storyteller

The Burning of the Rice Fields - Japan
Retold by Angela Klingler - The Storyteller ~

Long ago in Japan there was a village by the sea. A mountain rose above the village and high on the side of the mountain, overlooking both the village and the sea, there lived an old man and his ten-year-old grandson.

Respected and beloved, the Old Man was called “Grandfather” by all. He was the caretaker of the rice fields, which grew in the terraces that rose up the side of the mountain. The rice fields were the wealth of the village and the harvest had been good that year and hundreds of rice stacks stood upon the small field overlooking the bay.

One evening the Old Man and his grandson were standing at the edge of the high field watching the village below. Everyone was gathering for the harvest festival, when suddenly the ground at his feet began a long, slow shaking. The land rocked gently several times and then grew still again.

The Grandfather’s keen old eyes looked toward the sea and he saw that the sea had turned a dark green and it swiftly began running away from the land - running against the wind. He watched as the shore grew wider and wider. Puzzled, the villagers began to gather on the growing beach.

Though the Old Man had never seen such a thing happen before, he remembered stories told to him in his childhood, stories told by his father’s father and he knew that he must warn his people!

There was no time to send a message down the long mountain road. There was no time to ring the temple bell. There was no time to stand and think. “Quick child! Light us torches!” The grandson ran to light pine torches, bringing them to his grandfather.

The Old Man ran to the rice stacks closest to the edge and as quickly as his old legs would carry him, he thrust his torch into one rice stack after another. He watched as all he owned, all his work for the past year, all his people’s food for the year to come began to spark. Sparks burst into flame, the flames racing through the fields, the dried golden stacks turned black, sending great clouds of smoke into the air.

In tears the boy cried, “Grandfather! Grandfather! Why are you setting the rice fields on fire? Why?” But the Old Man had no time to answer but to say, “Help me!”

Below, the watcher in the temple saw the fire and rang the bell. The people in the village began to run up the mountain path. Everyone must help in time of fire!

Everyone, young men, boys, women, girls, mothers with babies on their backs, the old ones and the young children raced up the mountain to save their food source for the coming year. But they arrived too late, the harvest was gone.

“How did this happen?”

“I set the fires and made the boy help.”

“You did this thing! Why”

“Look to the sea and know.”

Everyone turned and far out to sea a great wall of water flew toward them, faster than the wind it flew. “TSUNAMI!” The people shrieked, but all voices were lost in the thunderous sound as the wall of water struck the mountain side below them.

The wild sea raged over their village, tearing away their houses, trees and great rocks. Again and again the wall of water struck, until at last all was calm again. Their village was gone, their temple, their fields. Nothing was left but a few thatched roofs floating on the water . . . but every man, woman and child was safe, high up on the mountain. Now all understood why the Old Man had set fire to the rice harvest. With only moments to spend, it was the only way he could get the entire village to safety in time.

In time the people rebuilt their village, they never forgot and the Old Man is still remembered and honored every time this story has been told from that day to this. ~
World Folktales, Fables, Fairytales, Myth, Legend & Geomythology since 1989
A NAPPA Award Winning & NEFA - NEST Program Artist
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