The Swallow Whose Tongue Was Cut Out
Long, long ago, there lived an old man and an old woman. They had no children, but the old man kept a baby sparrow as a pet, and loved him with all his heart.
One day, the old man went to the mountains to cut grass, as usual, while the old woman was out doing the washing. The baby sparrow flew into the empty house, and licked up all of the glue used to stick down the shoji paper doors. When the old woman came home, she saw that every bit of the glue had been licked up by the sparrow.
The mean old woman got angry, caught the little sparrow, and forced his mouth open. Then she cut off his tongue with some scissors. In a sad voice, the sparrow cried out, “It hurts, it hurts!” and flew away.
In the evening, when the old man came home and heard what had happened, he was very disappointed.
Worried about where the sparrow might have gone, the next day the old man immediately went off in search of the lost bird. He traveled over fields, he traveled over mountains, and finally he came to a place where there were some big bushes.
When he looked into the bushes, he saw a small red house in the bushes’ shade. The sparrow whose tongue had been cut out opened the door, and came out to welcome the man. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re all right!” asked the old man. “I’ve been missing you so much that I just had to come and find you.”
“Well, that’s very kind of you. Thank you. Come on in!” said the sparrow, and showed the old man into his house.
The sparrow gathered some of his sparrow friends, and they all did a sparrow dance performance for the old man, to the tune of a funny song.
Eventually it got dark, and the old man said, “Thanks very much, I’ve had a really enjoyable day. But I’d best be on my way now.” He stood up to go.
The sparrow said, “I’d like to give you a present, so please wait a little while.”
The sparrow brought out two packages from inside his house, and said, “Old man, here is a heavy bamboo trunk, and here is a light one. You can choose whichever one you prefer.”
“Well, I’m old and I’ve got a long way to go home, so I’ll have the light one, please.” So saying, the old man put the lightweight trunk on his back, and made his way home.
When the old woman waiting at home took the lid off the trunk the old man had brought back, hundreds of gold coins (koban) and treasures appeared. But suddenly the old woman pouted and said, “You stupid old man! Why didn’t you choose the heavy trunk to bring back instead of this one? I’m going to go there now to get the heavy one.”
The old man tried to stop her, but the old woman just ignored him and left the house straightaway. Outside it was already pitch dark but, spurred by her avaricious desires, the old woman thrust her stick blindly ahead and pushed on till she got to the sparrow’s red house. There she immediately demanded the heavy bamboo trunk from the sparrow, got it, and headed straight back for home. But it was so heavy that she took a rest at the side of the road. When she opened the lid and looked inside the trunk, all kinds of squirming and wriggly monsters flew out! The old woman was so surprised she left the trunk by the roadside and ran home as fast as her legs would carry her.