Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ In the falling snow

‘You know a story for everything,’ a kind reader of this blog has written to me. Nice thought. But no, it’s not true. Instead, I’m constantly amazed at how many stories other storytellers know, ones I’ve never heard before. But what is true, I think, is that people who work with stories – and, of course, it becomes our job – develop an ear for links. A small thing that is said or seen will remind us of a story we heard long ago. Off we go to search it out, ringing up the person we think told it to us or looking for the book in which we found it.

That’s just happened to me. Even as I sat here in front of my computer, looking out at the snow on the street outside, my mind started to wander to the homeless man on the TV news last night, his head covered in a hood, his nose bright pink from the cold. He was trembling from the horror of the incredible coldness. And somehow now my mind settled briefly on hats. Hats are needed, warm, all-encompassing hats. Hats and plenty of kindness. And that’s when I thought about the Japanese statues I’d read about once.

Wow! I went straight to it. The book on my shelves called The Sea of Gold is a collection by Yoshiko Uchida of folktales from Japan. In it are two tales I’ve told innumerable times, namely the title story, The Sea of Gold, and The Tengu’s Magic Nose-Fan. And here now was the story that had just flicked into my mind. 

And, just as when I read it before, it made me laugh with the pleasure of it. It’s a story linked with New Year in Japan but it seems to me just right for this bitter weather here right now. For it made me remark on, and value, the kindness that lies at its heart.

The story: New Year’s Hats for the Statues

There were two old people who had very little. The old man was a weaver who wove and sold the reed hats that Japanese farmers used to protect their heads from the sun and the rain. But he was never able to sell very many.

One bitterly cold day just before the new year, the old woman became very worried that they had nothing left to eat. The old man told her not to be upset. He’d make some hats and take them to the village and sell them and then they’d buy some fish and rice for their New Year’s feast.

The next day in the village, everyone was too busy to care about hats. They were far too busy buying food and in the end, the old man gave up and began heading home with his five unsold hats. But as he went,  he came to six stone statues. They were statues of Jizo, the guardian god of children and as they stood by the roadside, snow was piling onto their heads.

The old man felt immediate pity. As he stopped to brush the snow off the statues’ heads, an idea came into his mind. Getting out his unsold hats, he tied each one onto the head of one of the statues. But of course, he only had five and this meant that one statue was left without a hat. ‘Never mind,’ the old man said as, taking his own reed hat off his head, he tied it onto the head of the sixth statue.

Well, when the old man got home and his wife heard his story, she didn’t berate him as many would. Instead, she said he’d done a very kind thing and she’d have done just the same. Finally after a cup of tea but nothing to eat and with their very last piece of charcoal on the brazier, there was nothing else for it but for them to go to bed . Outside, the snow was drifting ever deeper in the wind. Inside, the old man and his wife huddled together under their quilts, trying their best to keep warm.

But at daybreak, it was very strange, the old people woke to hear sounds outside as of a group of men pulling a very heavy load. ‘Yoi-sah! Hoi-sah! Yoi-sah! Hoi-sah!’ Who could it be so early, they wondered. Soon the old people heard singing.

Where is the home of the kind old man,
The man who covered our heads?
Where is the home of the kind old man,
Who gave us his hats for his head?

What the old man and woman saw when they went to the window was the six Jizo statues lumbering towards their house, the reed hats still on their heads. Each was pulling a heavy sack and when they got to the old people’s house, they piled their sacks on the doorstep.

The old man hurried to open the door. As he did so, the six sacks tumbled into the house. Each one was full of food – rice, wheat, fish, beans, wine, cakes and all sorts of other delicious things. Why, there was enough food for a whole year, including for a very fine New Year’s feast.

‘Thank you,’ the old man called

‘Thank you,’ the old woman called. ‘How can we ever thank you enough?’

And that’s the end of the story except that here’s the last paragraph of it as it appears in the book:

‘But the six stone statues were already moving slowly down the road, and as the old man and woman watched, they disappeared into the whiteness of the falling snow, leaving only their footprints to show that they had been there at all.’

PS: A bit of an eclectic mix for my photos this week! First. on the kind of day when he’d have no need of a hat, is Sir Francis Drake on Plymouth Hoe. Second is my South American Story Doll – and I was glad to recall that she wears a hat, no doubt for protection from all those lively children she carries.  Third is me on holiday, I can’t even remember when, but obviously it’s the kind of day when it’s not snow but sun that makes the hat obligatory.

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One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ In the falling snow”

  1. Clare Winstanley Says:

    Very fetching pic of you in hat, Mary!

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