Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Bamboo Cutter

I went out to see the perigee moon last night and was reminded of its ability to influence not only tides, but some say everything from moods to disastrous world events. Thoughts then turned to our friends in Japan and the devastation of recent days.

Amongst the most ancient of Japanese tales is The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. (This is how I remember the story. Please forgive any errors.)

It tells of an old Bamboo Cutter who, upon cutting open a glowing bamboo shoot one evening, discovers a tiny baby the size of his thumb. He and his wife (who were were childless) joyously name her Nayotake no Kaguya-hime (the Shining Princess of Supple Bamboo) and raise her as their own.

Whenever he cut open a stalk of bamboo from then on, he found a nugget of gold and soon became rich. The baby grew into a very beautiful woman; so lovely in fact that five princes tried but could not win her hand in marriage. Even the Emperor of Japan, Mikado, was lovestruck but could not capture Kaguya-hime's heart.

Her father noticed that on every full moon tears would fill her eyes and finally she revealed that she was not of this world, but was sent here and must soon return to her people on the Moon.

As the day of her return approached, the Emperor sent guards to protect her house but when the "Heavenly Beings" appeared, the guards were blinded by a bright light. Kaguya-hime wrote sad notes of apology to both her parents and the Emperor. As she handed the note to the Emperor's guard a feather robe was placed on her shoulders and all her earthy sorrows were forgotten. Kaguya-hime was taken back to Tsuki-no-Miyako ("the Capital of the Moon").

Her parents were struck down by sadness. The Emperor, upon reading his note, ordered that the letter and the pot of elixir of immortality (for he no longer wanted to live forever if it meant without her) be taken to the tallest mountain and burned. He wanted the fire to be as close to his love in the heavens as possible; in the hopes his grief might reach her.

The word 'immortality' (fuji) became the name of the mountain. The smoke was seen for centuries...


  1. oh, so beautiful, so touching. Thank you.

  2. Wonderful story! Am I the only one wondering if aliens were picking up Japanese girls a long time ago? Personally I'd like to find out where those bamboo plants are with the gold inside though. Could be very useful :)

  3. Thank you all for your comments. The tradition of honour with sadness in the Japanese culture is remarkable, exemplified perhaps by the reported lack of lawlessness during the recent tragedies and the people volunteering to try to help cool the reactors.