|The girls were as pretty as cherry blossoms.
Once upon a time, "in a certain place", somewhere in Japan, there lived two sisters. The first was called Crimson Dish, or Benizara, and the second Broken Dish, or Kakezara. Because Benizara had been born to another woman, and Kakezara from her own womb, Kakezara's mother favored her greatly. It seemed there must be some way to rid herself of the troublesome girl. One day, the woman had an idea. She would send the two girls out to gather chestnuts. The one who came home with a full sack would get her supper; the other a beating. Each girl was given a gunny sack to fill, and the bags appeared to be alike. But Benizara's had a hole in it! The two girls "set off for the mountains, and began to pick up chestnuts. Before long, Kakezara's bag was full, and she returned home, leaving Benizara alone. Kakezara, fearing her stepmother, remained on the mountain, trying desperately to fill her bag. Darkness fell, and the girl realized her danger. Now "she heard a rustling sound, gasa, gasa, as though a wolf were coming toward her. She was filled with despair, but she knew that it would do no good to cry, so she kept on walking, thinking that perhaps she might find a house." And she did indeed spy a little cottage. "She went to where it was and saw an old woman alone, spinning thread." Fortunately, the old woman took her inside. Unfortunately, she told Benizara that she could not stay. She explained that "both of my sons are oni" which is what Japanese ogres are called. She feared that they would eat this little human girl if they smelled her, and decided to help the child. So she told Benizara that if she followed the directions she was giving, she would safely find her way back home. "Then she filled her bag with chestnuts and gave her a little box and a handful of rice. 'Take the chestnuts to your mother. This little box is a magic box. If there is ever anything that you need, just say what you would like, then tap the box three times and what you want will appear. Now, if you meet my oni sons on the way home, chew some of the rice and spread it around your mouth; then lied down and pretend that you are dead." Then she pointed out the correct path. Benizara had not gone far before she heard the sound of a flute playing and large feet stamping through the woods. So, quickly, she chewed the rice and rubbed it around her mouth. Flinging herself down in the dirt she closed her eyes, and imagined what it would be like to lie dead. "Soon, a red oni and a blue oni came along. 'Hey, older brother. I smell human beings.' said one and went over to the side of the road to look. 'It's no good, older brother, she's already rotten. Her mouth is full of worms.' he said, and they went on down the road, blowing their flutes. Benizara continued down the path and after some time, the sky began to lighten. Just as the sun was sending its first glorious rays of the day across the sky, Benizara reached home. Her stepmother greeted the dawn with the hope that perhaps her hated stepchild had been eaten by wolves overnight, explaining why she had not returned home. Just then, Benizara came in and bowed before her. The girl had a sack filled to the brim with chestnuts! There was nothing the stepmother could do but take the nuts. It happened one day that a festival was announced, at which there was to be a play. Kakezara and her mother put on their finest kimonos, and went into town. But before they left, Benizara was given a very long list of chores. If they were not done by the time the stepmother returned, the girl would get a beating instead of her supper. Benizara sighed, and began to clean the house. Just then, she heard a gaggle of voices and laughing at the door. It was her friends, who had come to see if she could go along to the festival. "Friends, I cannot go." said Benizara sadly. "I have to clean the whole house and changed the bedding and weed the garden and sift the rice and fill the water jars and empty the ashes from the stove. If I do not do all of these things before my stepmother comes back, she will beat me." But Benizara's friends were kind and good: those girls all pitched in to to the work. Many hands made it light, and before Benizara knew it, all was done. How pretty her friends looked in their colorful silk kimonos. "Benizara had nothing but rags to wear. She wondered what she should do; then she thought about the little box she had recieved from the old woman in the mountains." So she went to her room and drew it from under her bed. She closed her eyes and said aloud," I would like to have a kimono." And before she had finished speaking, she was wearing one. It was of lavender silk, with flowers worked in embroidery all over it. How beautiful she felt with it on! She put her hand in the pocket and found that it was full of candies. Though she and her friends ate the sweets all the way to town, her pocket was still full when the girls arrived at the festival. The play was about to begin. A girl in the audience was calling to her mother for sweets, and the woman tried to hush her with a slap. Benizara saw that the girl was Kakezara! She threw her stepsister a handful of candy. A nobleman in the audience observed the beautiful girl, sharing candy with all of the maidens around her. And the next day, the gentleman sought her out. His procession wound through the streets until "the lord's palanquin stopped in front of Benizara's house. Kakezara's mother was overjoyed" believing that the nobleman must be interested in her own child. But the gentleman frowned when the girl was brought out and said, "There should be two girls here, bring out the other one too." Now Benizara's stepmother had pushed the girl into the washtub to hide her, but now she did not dare to disobey the lord. The shabby girl was brought out and pushed before the nobleman. Confronted with one lovely girl in rags, and a well dressed one with a scowling face, the lord decided he must test the girls to see who was the generous one he desired. "Which one of these two came to see my performance yesterday?" he demanded. And the mother pointed to the scowling girl in silks. The lord knew that she was lying so he said that they would have a contest. "The lord took a plate and put it on a tray; then he piled some salt in the plate and stuck a pine needle in it. He commanded that they each compose a poem, using that as a subject. In a loud voice, Kakezara sang,'
Put a plate on a tray.
Put some salt on the plate!
Stick a pine needle in the salt; it'll soon fall over.'
Then she hit the lord on the head and ran off. " Benizara now took a deep breath, and spoke her composition:
"A tray and a plate, oh!
A mountain rises from the plate,
On it, snow has fallen.
Rooted deep into the snow,
A lovely pine tree grows."
And so the nobleman knew which girl had a heart full of poetry, and which a head full of nothing. So he called for preparations to be made, and Benizara was richly dressed. The lord took her home to his palace to celebrate their marriage. "Kakezara's mother watched in silence; then she put Kakezara in a huge, empty basket, saying,'Now, Kakezara, you too may go to the lord's palace.' She dragged her along, but she did it so violently that Kakezara tumbled over the edge of a deep ditch and fell to her death."
From: The Oryx Multicultural Folk Tale Series: Cinderella by Sierra, J. (1992)
Notes: This story parallels the Baba Yaga-type story from Russia, I think, more than anything else. The similar elements are the impossible errand in the woods; the old lady in the cottage who is spinning; the three gifts and specific instructions on what to do with each. It is interesting to think about what the old woman would have been spinning when Benizara sees her. Probably it was silk, though it may have been cotton or flax. Also note that the salt which the nobleman poured onto the plate would not have been Morton's, from a blue cardboard box. It may have been sea salt, in flakes or large crystals, and it could easily have been shades of pink or gray along with white. I love that Japanese ogres play flutes!
Montessori Connection: Literature and Poetry of Japan
1. Read this story and notice the parts that are unique to Japan (the kimono, the oni).
2. Think about why the nobleman asked the girls to compose a poem.
3. Learn about Japanese culture: A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations; A History of the Japanese People From the Earliest Times to the End of the Meiji EraKids Explore America's Japanese Heritage (Series)
4. Read books by some famous Japanese and Japanese-American authors:Gyo Fujikawa's A to Z Picture Book;Oh, What a Busy Day;A Child's Book of Poems;The Bracelet;Journey To Topaz: A Story Of The Japanese-American Evacuation