Water of Life, a Japanese Folktale adapted by Motoko

Mukashi mukashi aru tokoroni…..

In Old Japan, there lived an old couple, named Masa and Yoshi, in a little village at the foot of a mountain. They were kind and hardworking, but very poor. They loved each other dearly and promised to marry each other even in their next lives. Their landlord, Kichi, was a mean and greedy man with no family or friends. All he cared about was money. Whatever Masa and Yoshi had, Kichi would try to take away from them.

Storyteller MotokoOne day, old man Masa went up the mountain to get firewood. He saw something furry jumping wildly in the bushes. A mother fox was caught in a hunter’s trap. Her kits were hiding in the bushes nearby. Feeling sorry for the poor creature, he set her free. But the fox was badly hurt in the hind leg, so Masa followed at a distance, to make sure she was okay. The fox and her kits led Masa through thickets and trees, to a spring deep in the mountain.

From behind a tree, Masa watched the fox drink from the spring. Then something amazing happened. The fox was completely healed. After the animals bounded away, Masa took a few sips from the sparkling pool. The crystal-clear water made him feel refreshed and invigorated. No more old aches and pains! He quickly gathered a big bundle of wood, which felt surprisingly light on his shoulder. He ran home.

“Wife, I’m home!” Masa shouted almost bumping into Yoshi. He was shocked to see her frightened reaction.

“Who are you, and what do you want?” Yoshi demanded.

“What are you saying? It’s me, your husband! Don’t you recognize me?” Masa was confused until he caught a glimpse of his reflection in a bucket of water nearby.

“What happened to me?!” What he saw was not his old wrinkled face, but a handsome and robust young man of twenty!

“That spring was magic! Yoshi, you must believe me. Come with me! I’ll show you!” Masa carried his old wife up the mountain to the spring. A few sips of water turned Yoshi into a beautiful young maiden. Their eyes twinkled as they came together in a tender embrace.

Now Masa and Yoshi were a happy young couple. But Kichi the greedy landlord soon discovered what happened. He forced them to reveal the location of the spring. He planned to bottle the water and make a fortune. When he came to the spring, however, he decided to test it. The water tasted so great, he took another sip. Then another, and another…

Kichi did not come home that night. When Masa and Yoshi went to look for him next morning, what did they see? A cute little baby boy wrapped in Kichi’s clothes!

Masa and Yoshi took the baby home and raised him as their own son. And this time, Kichi did not grow up to be greedy and mean. He turned out gentle and kind, just as his parents were to him.

Motoko is a national storyteller in the 2021 WSU Storytelling Festival. Read about the festival in our feature story, A Story for the AgesFind links to attend the festival, running Feb. 22–March 18, at weber.edu/storytelling.

The recipient of the National Storytelling Network’s 2017 Circle of Excellence Award, Motoko has enchanted audiences of every age across the U.S., as well as in China, Japan, Senegal, and the U.A.E. Her repertoire includes Asian folktales, Rakugo and Zen tales, ghost stories, mime vignettes, oral memoirs from her childhood in Osaka, Japan, and her life as an immigrant. Motoko has appeared on PBS’ Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and toured Miyazaki, Japan, as part of CarnegieKids sponsored by Carnegie Hall. She has been featured in festivals and theaters across the U.S., including the National Storytelling Festival and Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. Her story recordings won a Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Award, a Storytelling World Award, and a National Parenting Publications Award (NAPPA). She is the author of A Year in Japan: Folktales, Songs and Art for the Classroom.