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The Travels Of Two Frogs






Source: Japanese Fairy World

Forty miles apart, as the cranes fly, stand the great cities of Ozaka and
Kioto. The one is the city of canals and bridges. Its streets are full of
bustling trade, and its waterways are ever alive with gondolas, shooting
hither and thither like the wooden shuttles in a loom. The other is the
sacred city of the Mikado's empire, girdled with green hills and a
nine-fold circle of flowers. In its quiet, clean streets, laid out like a
chessboard, walk the shaven monks and gowned scholars. And very beautiful
is Kioto, with pretty girls, and temple gardens, and castle walls, and
towers, and moats in which the white lotus blooms.

* * * * *

Long, long ago, in the good old days before the hairy-faced and
pale-cheeked men from over the Sea of Great Peace (Pacific Ocean) came to
Japan; before the black coal-smoke and snorting engine scared the white
heron from the rice-fields; before black crows and fighting sparrows,
which fear not man, perched on telegraph wires, or ever a railway was
thought of, there lived two frogs--one in a well in Kioto, the other in a
lotus-pond in Ozaka.

Now it is a common proverb in the Land of the Gods (Japan) that "the frog
in the well knows not the great ocean," and the Kioto frog had so often
heard this scornful sneer from the maids who came to draw out water, with
their long bamboo-handled buckets that he resolved to travel abroad and
see the world, and especially the tai kai (the great ocean).

"I'll see for myself," said Mr. Frog, as he packed his wallet and wiped
his spectacles, "what this great ocean is that they talk about. I'll
wager it isn't half as deep or wide as well, where I can see the stars
even at daylight."

Now the truth was, a recent earthquake had greatly reduced the depth of
the well and the water was getting very shallow. Mr. Frog informed his
family of his intentions. Mrs. Frog wept a great deal; but, drying her
eyes with her paper handkerchief, she declared she would count the hours
on her fingers till he came back, and at every morning and evening meal
would set out his table with food on it, just as if he were home. She
tied up a little lacquered box full of boiled rice and snails for his
journey, wrapped it around with a silk napkin, and, putting his extra
clothes in a bundle, swung it on his back. Tying it over his neck, he
seized his staff and was ready to go.

"Sayonara" ("Good-bye") cried he, as, with a tear in his eye, he walked
away.

"Sayonara. Oshidzukani" ("Good-bye. Walk slowly"), croaked Mrs. Frog
and the whole family of young frogs in a chorus.

Two of the froggies were still babies, that is, they were yet polywogs,
with a half inch of tail still on them; and, of course, were carried
about by being strapped on the back of their older brothers.

Mr. Frog being now on land, out of his well, noticed that the other
animals did not leap, but walked on their legs. And, not wishing to be
eccentric, he likewise began briskly walking upright on his hind legs or
waddling on all fours.

Now it happened that about the same time the Ozaka father frog had become
restless and dissatisfied with life on the edges of his lotus-ditch. He
had made up his mind to "cast the lion's cub into the valley."

"Why! that is tall talk for a frog, I must say," exclaims the reader.
"What did he mean?"

I must tell you that the Ozaka frog was a philosopher. Right at the edge
of his lotus-pond was a monastery, full of Buddhist monks, who every day
studied their sacred rolls and droned over the books of Confucius, to
learn them by heart. Our frog had heard them so often that he could (in
frog language, of course) repeat many of their wise sentences and intone
responses to their evening prayers put up by the great idol Amida.
Indeed, our frog had so often listened to their debates on texts from the
classics that he had himself become a sage and a philosopher. Yet, as
the proverb says, "the sage is not happy."

Why not? In spite of a soft mud-bank, plenty of green scum, stagnant
water, and shady lotus leaves, a fat wife and a numerous family; in
short, everything to make a frog happy, his forehead, or rather gullet,
was wrinkled with care from long pondering of knotty problems, such as
the following:

The monks often come down to the edge of the pond to look at the pink and
white lotus. One summer day, as a little frog, hardly out of his tadpole
state, with a small fragment of tail still left, sat basking on a huge
round leaf, one monk said to the other:

"Of what does that remind you?"

"The babies of frogs will become but frogs," said one shaven pate,
laughing.

"What think you?"

"The white lotus flower springs out of the black mud," said the other,
solemnly, as both walked away.

The old frog, sitting near by, overheard them and began to philosophize:
"Humph! The babies of frogs will become but frogs, hey? If mud becomes
lotus, why shouldn't a frog become a man? Why not? If my pet son should
travel abroad and see the world--go to Kioto, for instance--why shouldn't
he be as wise as those shining-headed men, I wonder? I shall try it,
anyhow. I'll send my son on a journey to Kioto. I'll 'cast the lion's cub
into the valley' (send the pet son abroad in the world, to see and study)
at once. I'll deny myself for the sake of my offspring."

Flump! splash! sounded the water, as a pair of webby feet disappeared.
The "lion's cub" was soon ready, after much paternal advice, and much
counsel to beware of being gobbled up by long-legged storks, and trod on
by impolite men, and struck at by bad boys. "Kio ni no inaka" ("Even in
the capital there are boors") said Father Frog.

Now it so happened that the old frog from Kioto and the "lion's cub" from
Ozaka started each from his home at the same time. Nothing of importance
occurred to either of them until, as luck would have it, they met on a
hill near Hashimoto, which is half way between the two cities. Both were
footsore, and websore, and very tired, especially about the hips, on
account of the unfroglike manner of walking, instead of hopping, as they
had been used to.

"Ohio gozarimasu" ("Good-morning") said the "lion's cub" to the old
frog, as he fell on all fours and bowed his head to the ground three
times, squinting up over his left eye, to see if the other frog was
paying equal deference in return.

"He, konnichi wa" ("Yes, good-day") replied the Kioto frog.

"O tenki" ("It is rather fine weather to-day") said the "cub."

"He, yoi tenki gozence" ("Yes, it is very fine") replied the old
fellow.

"I am Gamataro, from Ozaka, the oldest son of Hiki Dono, Sensui no Kami"
(Lord Bullfrog, Prince of the Lotus-Ditch).

"Your Lordship must be weary with your journey. I am Kayeru San of
Idomidzu (Sir Frog of the Well) in Kioto. I started out to see the 'great
ocean' from Ozaka; but, I declare, my hips are so dreadfully tired that I
believe that I'll give up my plan and content myself with a look from
this hill."

The truth must be owned that the old frog was not only on his hind legs,
but also on his last legs, when he stood up to look at Ozaka; while the
"cub" was tired enough to believe anything. The old fellow, wiping his
face, spoke up:

"Suppose we save ourselves the trouble of the journey. This hill is half
way between the two cities, and while I see Ozaka and the sea you can get
a good look of the Kio" (Capital, or Kioto).

"Happy thought!" said the Ozaka frog.

Then both reared themselves upon their hind-legs, and stretching upon
their toes, body to body, and neck to neck, propped each other up, rolled
their goggles and looked steadily, as they supposed, on the places which
they each wished to see. Now everyone knows that a frog has eyes mounted
in that part of his head which is FRONT WHEN HE IS DOWN AND BACK WHEN HE
STANDS UP. They are set like a compass on gimbals.

Long and steadily they gazed, until, at last, their toes being tired,
they fell down on all fours.

"I declare!" said the old yaze (daddy) "Ozaka looks just like Kioto;
and as for 'the great ocean' those stupid maids talked about, I don't see
any at all, unless they mean that strip of river that looks for all the
world like the Yodo. I don't believe there is any 'great ocean'!"

"As for my part," said the 'cub', "I am satisfied that it's all folly to
go further; for Kioto is as like Ozaka as one grain of rice is like
another." Then he said to himself: "Old Totsu San (my father) is a fool,
with all his philosophy."

Thereupon both congratulated themselves upon the happy labor-saving
expedient by which they had spared themselves a long journey, much
leg-weariness, and some danger. They departed, after exchanging many
compliments; and, dropping again into a frog's hop, they leaped back in
half the time--the one to his well and the other to his pond. There each
told the story of both cities looking exactly alike; thus demonstrating
the folly of those foolish folks called men. As for the old gentleman in
the lotus-pond, he was so glad to get the "cub" back again that he never
again tried to reason out the problems of philosophy. And to this day the
frog in the well knows not and believes not in the "great ocean." Still
do the babies of frogs become but frogs. Still is it vain to teach the
reptiles philosophy; for all such labor is "like pouring water in a
frog's face." Still out of the black mud springs the glorious white lotus
in celestial purity, unfolding its stainless petals to the smiling
heavens, the emblem of life and resurrection.





Next: The Child Of The Thunder

Previous: The Meeting Of The Star-lovers



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