Lazy Taro

“The two frogs, therefore, started their journeys, the one to Kyoto, the other to Osaka. But by the time they reached the hill midway between their homes, each was very sore and stiff, for as you know, a frog squats and squawks all day and is not used to journeying on the road like men. They sympathised with each other, and then they hit on the bright notion of standing up on their hind legs, and having a look at their destinations, instead of troubling to go all the way thither. So the Kyoto frog stood up to look at Osaka and the Osaka frog to look at Kyoto. But as you all know, the eyes of a frog are set in the back of his head, and when they stood up, they looked backwards, and the Kyoto frog looked at Kyoto and the Osaka frog looked at Osaka.

“Therefore each said the place he was bound for was exactly like his own home and not worth travelling to see, and the Kyoto frog returned to his admiring friends and told them the ocean at Osaka was no bigger than his well at Kyoto, and the Osaka frog returned home and told his admiring friends that the city of Kyoto was no bigger than his monastery. They remained, therefore, for the rest of their lives in their own homes, thoroughly satisfied with themselves and with their knowledge of the world.”

With this, the fisherman went his way, leaving Taro very angry and Taro’s friends sniggering to one another, for this time the laugh was decidedly against Taro.

Now from that day Taro began to be not quite so pleased with himself; for one thing every one who passed, took to calling him “Froggy.” One day a string of riders came along the road, carrying a proclamation and when they saw Taro they stopped and told him the Prince of the country needed some strong, young men to serve him and Taro should offer his services. Of course Taro laughed very loudly at the idea of his going as a servant to the palace like any one else, but that night, he could not sleep, and, as he lay watching the rice-fields and the river in the moonlight, where even at this late hour, people were working, it suddenly occurred to him how kind every one had been in bringing him food. And then he thought how little he had done for any one, and then he longed and longed to do something for somebody else.

Then he remembered that the Prince’s servants had said Taro was just the fellow the Prince needed in his palace, and actually lazy Taro jumped up, and just as he was, in his old rags, hurried as quickly as he could down the road and journeyed on and on until he reached the palace and offered himself for service like any other poor boy, at the back door. Of course Taro did not know how to do anything useful and all they could find for him to do, was to sweep out the rooms early in the morning before any one was down.

But the funny thing was, when Taro began to work, he found he just loved working. It was perfectly glorious to see the dust fly before his broom, and to leave the palace clean and shining after he had passed through. He could not bear to stop work when every one arose, and so begged that he might sweep the garden paths during the day, which he was allowed to do. Thus he became acquainted with the wonderful flowers that grew in the palace garden, and from brushing the paths, he began to see numberless little kindnesses he might do for the flowers. He removed grubs that were spoiling the tender leaves, tied up broken branches, removed seedpods that crowded too thickly on the growing flowers, and presently attracted the attention of the head-gardener. He took Taro to work in the garden and taught him much.

And then quite suddenly, just as Taro was feeling he was really of some use in the world, and when he was so happy in his work he felt he could never be happier, the Prince sent word that Taro was to guard the gate that looked on the city street.

Taro dressed as a guard, at the palace door, under the moon

The moon was shining pale and fair over the palace roof.

So Taro was taken away from his beloved flowers and active life, and put to stand day and night, alone and motionless before the palace gate. Oh, how he missed his flowers! And how he hated standing still, after his busy labours. But he had come to serve the Prince and of course he never dreamed of disobeying.

One night when he was on guard, and the moon was shining pale and fair over the palace roof, Taro thought of that night when he had lain awake thinking of the people who had passed and told him of the Prince’s proclamation, and like a flash, he saw his little house with the sides of matting, and the silent pine tree guarding it, and a poem burst from his heart.

“Autumn’s full moon:
Lo, the shadow of a pine-tree
Upon the mats.”

And that little poem said all he felt about that wonderful still night when the silent pine tree had cast its interlacing tracery upon the walls of his silent house.

Then poems began to spring out of his heart like flowers; he thought of the day when he swept the garden paths in all their wintry splendour, and this poem came:

“To-day, at last to-day,
I grew to wish to raise
The chrysanthemum flowers.”

And then he thought of another:

“Yellow chrysanthemum, white chrysanthemum,
Why, the other names for me,
Are of no use.”

And as the dawn rose, and the sun flashed out, he cried,

“Ah, how sublime
The green leaves, the young leaves,
In the light of the sun.”

Soon the people began to gather round Taro as he stood at the gate, for the Japanese love poetry, and specially poems which are easy to understand like Taro’s were. He soon became a great popular poet, and one day the Prince sent for him and asked him to repeat some of his poems, which Taro did. The Prince was so pleased he took Taro to see the Emperor, who became very interested when he heard the story of Taro’s life and ordered his Minister to make inquires about Taro’s parentage.

Thus it was discovered that Taro was really the son of the Prince; he had been stolen from his father’s garden when he was a tiny baby, and cruelly abandoned. Taro was raised to high honour and was made Governor of the province in which he had lived, because the Emperor thought no one would understand those people better than Taro.

Taro became a very hard-working person now, sparing himself no trouble in doing things for the neighbourhood. The first person he went to see was the old fisherman, to whom Taro presented a beautiful boat with a pair of cormorants, to aid the fisherman in his task.

A fisherman in a boat, the cormorants fishing nearby

Taro presented to him a beautiful boat, with a pair of cormorants

But you will notice that as long as Taro remained lazy, and useless, nobody troubled to find out anything about him. It was only when he became of real value that the truth was revealed that he was the son of a Prince and he was restored to his father’s home.

From Wonder Tales of the World, Constance Armfield
New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.

Folk tales

East AsiaJapan

Stories you might like:

The Fox that was Docked

By

It was so uncouth a sight for a Fox to appear without this distinguishing ornament of his race, that the very thought of it made him weary of his life.

EuropeEngland

read

The History of Whittington and his Cat

Poor Dick ran off as fast as his legs could carry him; he walked about the streets till it grew dark, and finding nothing but dirt instead of gold, he sat down in a corner, and cried himself to sleep.

EuropeEngland

read

Khing-Chu-Fu

By

‘Get up, wise man!’ repeated the chancellor in French. ‘Do you mean me?’ exclaimed Pinchauvas. And with one bound he stood up.

EuropeSpain

read

A Sailor’s Wish

Allowing these ships to range side by side, only thirty feet being admitted to each, they would reach about 70,429 miles, and form three complete bridges round the world.

EuropeEngland

read

Find stories