: Japanese Fairy Tales
Jofuku was the Wise Man of China. Many books he read, and he never
forgot what was in them. All the characters he knew as he knew the lines
in the palm of his hand. He learned secrets from birds and beasts, and
herbs and flowers and trees, and rocks and metals. He knew magic and
poetry and philosophy. He grew full of years and wisdom. All the people
honoured him; but he was not happy, for he had a word written upon his
The word was Mutability. It was with him day and night, and sorely it
troubled him. Moreover, in the days of Jofuku a tyrant ruled over China,
and he made the Wise Man's life a burden.
"Jofuku," he said, "teach the nightingales of my wood to sing me the
songs of the Chinese poets."
Jofuku could not do it for all his wisdom.
"Alas, liege," he said, "ask me another thing and I will give it you,
though it cost me the blood of my heart."
"Have a care," said the Emperor, "look to your ways. Wise men are cheap
in China; am I one to be dishonoured?"
"Ask me another thing," said the Wise Man.
"Well, then, scent me the peony with the scent of the jessamine. The
peony is brilliant, imperial; the jessamine is small, pale, foolish.
Nevertheless, its perfume is sweet. Scent me the peony with the scent of
But Jofuku stood silent and downcast.
"By the gods," cried the Emperor, "this wise man is a fool! Here, some
of you, off with his head."
"Liege," said the Wise Man, "spare me my life and I will set sail for
Horaizan where grows the herb Immortality. I will pluck this herb and
bring it back to you again, that you may live and reign for ever."
The Emperor considered.
"Well, go," he said, "and linger not, or it will be the worse for you."
Jofuku went and found brave companions to go with him on the great
adventure, and he manned a junk with the most famous mariners of China,
and he took stores on board, and gold; and when he had made all things
ready he set sail in the seventh month, about the time of the full moon.
The Emperor himself came down to the seashore.
"Speed, speed, Wise Man," he said; "fetch me the herb Immortality, and
see that you do it presently. If you return without it, you and your
companions shall die the death."
"Farewell, liege," called Jofuku from the junk. So they went with a fair
wind for their white sails. The boards creaked, the ropes quivered, the
water splashed against the junk's side, the sailors sang as they steered
a course eastward, the brave companions were merry. But the Wise Man of
China looked forward and looked back, and was sad because of the word
written upon his heart--Mutability.
The junk of Jofuku was for many days upon the wild sea, steering a
course eastwards. He and the sailors and the brave companions suffered
many things. The great heat burnt them, and the great cold froze them.
Hungry and thirsty they were, and some of them fell sick and died. More
were slain in a fight with pirates. Then came the dread typhoon, and
mountain waves that swept the junk. The masts and the sails were washed
away with the rich stores, and the gold was lost for ever. Drowned were
the famous mariners, and the brave companions every one. Jofuku was left
In the grey dawn he looked up. Far to the east he saw a mountain, very
faint, the colour of pearl, and on the mountain top there grew a tree,
tall, with spreading branches. The Wise Man murmured:
"The Island of Horaizan is east of the east, and there is Fusan, the
Wonder Mountain. On the heights of Fusan there grows a tree whose
branches hide the Mysteries of Life."
Jofuku lay weak and weary and could not lift a finger. Nevertheless,
the junk glided nearer and nearer to the shore. Still and blue grew the
waters of the sea, and Jofuku saw the bright green grass and the
many-coloured flowers of the island. Soon there came troops of young men
and maidens bearing garlands and singing songs of welcome; and they
waded out into the water and drew the junk to land. Jofuku was aware of
the sweet and spicy odours that clung to their garments and their hair.
At their invitation he left the junk, which drifted away and was no more
He said, "I have come to Horaizan the Blest." Looking up he saw that the
trees were full of birds with blue and golden feathers. The birds filled
the air with delightful melody. On all sides there hung the orange and
the citron, the persimmon and the pomegranate, the peach and the plum
and the loquat. The ground at his feet was as a rich brocade,
embroidered with every flower that is. The happy dwellers in Horaizan
took him by the hands and spoke lovingly to him.
"How strange it is," said Jofuku, "I do not feel my old age any more."
"What is old age?" they said.
"Neither do I feel any pain."
"Now what is pain?" they said.
"The word is no longer written on my heart."
"What word do you speak of, beloved?"
"Mutability is the word."
"And what may be its interpretation?"
"Tell me," said the Wise Man, "is this death?"
"We have never heard of death," said the inhabitants of Horaizan.
* * * * *
The Wise Man of Japan was Wasobiobe. He was full as wise as the Wise Man
of China. He was not old but young. The people honoured him and loved
him. Often he was happy enough.
It was his pleasure to venture alone in a frail boat out to sea, there
to meditate in the wild and watery waste. Once as he did this it chanced
that he fell asleep in his boat, and he slept all night long, while his
boat drifted out to the eastward. So, when he awoke in the bright light
of morning, he found himself beneath the shadow of Fusan, the Wonder
Mountain. His boat lay in the waters of a river of Horaizan, and he
steered her amongst the flowering iris and the lotus, and sprang on
"The sweetest spot in the world!" he said. "I think I have come to
Horaizan the Blest."
Soon came the youths and maidens of the island, and with them the Wise
Man of China, as young and as happy as they.
"Welcome, welcome, dear brother," they cried, "welcome to the Island of
When they had given him to eat of the delicious fruit of the island,
they laid them down upon a bank of flowers to hear sweet music.
Afterwards they wandered in the woods and groves. They rode and hunted,
or bathed in the warm sea-water. They feasted and enjoyed every
delightful pleasure. So the long day lingered, and there was no night,
for there was no need of sleep, there was no weariness and no pain.
* * * * *
The Wise Man of Japan came to the Wise Man of China. He said:
"I cannot find my boat."
"What matter, brother?" said Jofuku. "You want no boat here."
"Indeed, my brother, I do. I want my boat to take me home. I am sick for
home. There's the truth."
"Are you not happy in Horaizan?"
"No, for I have a word written upon my heart. The word is Humanity.
Because of it I am troubled and have no peace."
"Strange," said the Wise Man of China. "Once I too had a word written on
my heart. The word was Mutability, but I have forgotten what it means.
Do you too forget."
"Nay, I can never forget," said the Wise Man of Japan.
He sought out the Crane, who is a great traveller, and besought her,
"Take me home to my own land."
"Alas," the Crane said, "if I did so you would die. This is the Island
of Eternal Youth; do you know you have been here for a hundred years? If
you go away you will feel old age and weariness and pain, then you will
"No matter," said Wasobiobe, "take me home."
Then the Crane took him on her strong back and flew with him. Day and
night she flew and never tarried and never tired. At last she said, "Do
you see the shore?"
And he said, "I see it. Praise be to the gods."
She said, "Where shall I carry you?... You have but a little time to
"Good Crane, upon the dear sand of my country, under the spreading pine,
there sits a poor fisherman mending his net. Take me to him that I may
die in his arms."
So the Crane laid Wasobiobe at the poor fisherman's feet. And the
fisherman raised him in his arms. And Wasobiobe laid his head against
the fisherman's humble breast.
"I might have lived for ever," he said, "but for the word that is
written on my heart."
"What word?" said the fisherman.
"Humanity is the word," the Wise Man murmured. "I am grown old--hold
me closer. Ah, the pain...." He gave a great cry.
Afterwards he smiled. Then his breath left him with a sigh, and he was
"It is the way of all flesh," said the fisherman.