舌切り崔のおばあさん (shita kiri suzume no obaasan)
“the old woman who cut the sparrow’s tongue“
This top depicts the legend of “the old woman who cut the sparrow’s tongue” or “Tongue-cut Sparrow.” Although Hiroi-sensei’s description focuses on the old woman, the typical version of the tale includes both the woman and her husband. The old man, a woodcutter, was a kind and honest person, whereas his wife was arrogant and greedy. One day, the old man found an injured sparrow in the mountains while he worked, and brought it home to care for it. His wife was angry he would waste food on the bird. He continued to care for the sparrow. One day, the old man left it in the care of his wife while he went away for work. Without feeding it, she left the house to go fishing, and when she returned, found that it had eaten all of their starch while she was gone. Furious, she cut the bird’s tongue and sent it back into the wild.
When the old man returned to find the sparrow was gone, he went into the mountains, and with the help of other sparrows, found his friend. All of the sparrows celebrated by singing and dancing for him and brought him food. When he left, they offered him a large basket or a small basket to take with him, and the old man, being kind and practical, took the small basket that would be easy to carry. When he got home, he opened the basket to find it was full of a great amount of treasure. Seeing this treasure, the greedy old woman went back to the mountain to find the sparrow’s home, and demanded the large basket. She was instructed not to open it before she got home, but was too tempted by the treasure. When she opened it on the road, poisonous snakes and monsters popped out, and she was so startled she fell down and tumbled all the way down the mountain.
Hiroi Michiaki: This here, of course this is the old story of the sparrow with the cut tongue… This obake is… Ah. He’s hidden in here.
Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah.
Hiroi: I think there are three. Umm, the sparrow with the cut tongue is…
Mrs. Hiroi: There’s the old lady.
Hiroi: An old lady, um. She took some starch… In the past, you took things like cloth and put starch on it and stretched it out so that it didn’t get wrinkled. Because in the past there weren’t irons, you know. And because the sparrow ate all the starch on the stretched out wrinkled parts, this old woman cut out his tongue [as punishment], the sparrow’s tongue. Despite this, the sparrows invited the old woman to their home. And the woman who cut the sparrow’s tongue, umm, she neglected it, [but] it was in her debt, so when she went home, the [sparrows] said they’d give her a gift, and asked, “Which do you want, a large wicker basket or a small wicker basket?” and she was greedy, so she took the big one. And when she put the basket on her back and went [home], on the road obake (spirits/monsters) came out of it. The old woman was scared out of her wits and very disoriented. If you spin this, it rattles like this, and the obake spin around like this. And the old lady is terrified and looks like this. This is the tale of the sparrow with the cut tongue.