Hats for Jizo: A Japanese Buddhist Tale

Takahata Fudo Jizo

Note: One day last month, my wife asked me to help translate a Japanese children’s book into English for a presentation at my daughter’s pre-school. It is a famous old tale (mukashi-banashi 昔話) in Japan. This is my completed translation, with some links to Wikipedia for reference. It’s not professional, but my wife did proofread it for accuracy, so it’s adequate. 🙂 For those not familiar with Jizo Bodhisattva, click here, or consult the Buddhists’ Field Manual above. I decided to post this now to celebrate the coming Buddhist holiday of Ohigan.

Hats for Jizo
A long time ago, there lived an old man and an old woman who lived in a mountain village, who made straw hats. They didn’t have much money, but worked very hard cutting the grass, drying it, and weaving it into hats for a living. They had raised six children but they had all died when they were young, so now the couple lived alone.

At the end of one year, the old man said, “I will go and get some things for the New Year: fish, mochi rice cakes, and rice.” He then left and went into town, carrying hats for sale on his back.

When the old man got into town, he raised his voice and said, “Hats for sale! Hats for sale! They’ll keep off the rain and snow! Hats for sale!” But people were so busy buying last-minute items for the New Year, they were too busy to even turn their heads and look. The old man didn’t sell one single hat. Then it started to snow.

The snow fell softly, and soon the wind began to blow. “Oh well. I didn’t sell a single hat but I need to go home.” Crunch, crunch, he walked in the snow toward home, tired. But then he stopped.

Near the road were six statues of Jizo, a Buddhist guardian who protects people. They were standing all alone, and all over their heads and bodies, they were covered in snow. The old man said to himself, “Hm, they must be very cold,” as he brushed off the snow.

Then he said, “I have all these hats left over, so I’ll give them to the Jizo statues.”

He brushed off the snow some more, and put a hat on the head of each Jizo statue. One hat here, one hat there. Oops, he was short one hat. “Hm, what should I do?” he thought to himself. “Oh well, I’ll give the last statue my scarf. I’ll be fine without it.”

So, he tied the scarf around the head of the last Jizo statue.

This cheered him up and he felt much happier. He sang a song as he went back home. “Welcome home, grandpa,” said the old woman. “Hey there,” said the old man, “I am sorry, but the truth is, I gave all the hats to Jizo.” He told the old woman what happened and she said, “Well, that’s a good thing you did!” She wasn’t even mad a little bit.

They spent the end of the year sitting by the fire, drinking hot water, chewing on pickled vegetables. They sang songs about eating good foods, delicious mochi whiter than snow, and drinking warm hot drinks for the New Year.

That night, they went to sleep. “Well, I am glad we gave those hats to Jizo,” said the old lady to herself. She was very drowsy. The old man was already mumbling in his sleep.

All night, the snow kept falling. In the middle of the snow, there came a faint voice singing:

♪Where is the old man’s house?
♪You gave us Jizos each a hat!
♪Where is the old woman’s house?
♪You gave us Jizos each a hat!

The voices got louder and louder.

“Hey grandpa, someone’s singing outside,” said the old woman. “At this time of night?” said the old man. “But grandpa, they’re saying you gave us Jizos each a hat,” said the old woman. The singing got louder and louder, until it came to the front of the house. Then came the sound THUMP! THUMP! WHUMP!

When the old man and woman cautiously opened the door and came out to look, they saw a huge pile rice, mochi rice cakes, New Year’s fish, and lots of shining gold coins.

Then they saw five Jizo statues with hats on their heads and one with a scarf on his head, pulling an empty sled back home. “Old man, old woman thanks for taking care of us!” said the Jizo statues from far away. The old man and old woman put their hands together and said “thank you”.

From that day on, the old man and the old woman lived happily ever after.

The End. 終

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Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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