The Tongue-cut Sparrow

The Tongue-cut Sparrow

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The Tongue-cut Sparrow


A long time ago in Japan there lived an old farmer and his wife. The old man was kind and gentle and always had a smile for everyone he met, but his wife was cold and very bad-tempered. They had no children to help them, so as they got older, they had to work even harder just to survive. The old man found and tamed a little sparrow, and taught it many kinds of tricks. When he came in from the fields at the end of each day, the sparrow would welcome him home, and sing and dance for him; so in spite of his hardships the old man went to bed happy each night.

One day the old man had to go far into the forest to cut wood. It was laundry day, and his wife was in a bad mood as she prepared the starch for the clothes and set it outside to cool. While she was washing the clothes, the sparrow flew down to the starch and, as the old man had taught it to, pecked at the starch until it was gone. When the old woman came to get the starch and saw that the sparrow had eaten it, she went into a rage. She grabbed the bird in one hand and with the other she picked up her scissors and cut off the tip of its tongue. Then she threw the sparrow out the door, and it flew away as fast as it could go.

That night when the old man came home there was no sparrow to greet him and warm his heart. When he questioned his wife, she admitted what she had done, adding, “And good riddance! That bird has always caused more work for me.”

The poor man was devastated. Before dawn the next morning he took off to look for his little sparrow. He wandered through fields and forests, calling, “Mr. Sparrow, Mr. Sparrow, where are you now? How can I help you, my poor little tongue-cut sparrow?”

After a long time searching he came to a large bamboo wood, where he finally met the sparrow again. The old man ran forward to greet his little pet. They talked for a while, and the old man could see that the sparrow no longer suffered from any injury. The sparrow invited the old man home. He introduced his family and asked his wife to prepare a delicious feast. During the meal the sparrow’s daughters danced and sang for the old man. It was the best hospitality the old man had ever experienced! When it was time for the old man to return home, the sparrow brought out two wicker baskets, one large and one small. He said, “Here is a parting gift for you. Choose the one you want.”

“Thank you.” said the old man, “Since I’m not as strong as I used to be, and I have a long way to go, I’ll take the smaller one.” So he strapped the smaller one to his back and returned home.

Immediately his wife began to scold him for being away so long, and didn’t stop until he opened the basket and onto their floor spilled gold and silver and all kinds of precious jewels. With the sparrow’s gift, they had enough to be comfortable in their old age. But the woman didn’t stay happy for long. “Why didn’t you choose the bigger basket?” she scolded. “Then we could be very rich indeed and live in a bigger house and have servants. How could you be so stupid?”

The old woman decided to visit the sparrow. She went into the forest and walked and walked until she found the sparrow’s house in the bamboo wood. The sparrow and his family were not pleased to see her, but they were kinder than she, so they invited her in. She ate quickly and then called for her gift. When the two baskets were set out before her she chose the larger one. Without even thanking them she strapped it to her back and returned home. When she opened the basket a horde of demons sprang out and tormented her to death.

The old man was comfortable and happy for the rest of his days.


A Japanese folk tale retold by Mary Mahoney
Audio version performed by Cam Culham
Audio effects adapted under Creative Commons license
Audio credits: Chimes
Public domain image: Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons