For a change of pace, I would like to share this charming folktale from Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan, of a sort traditionally told to small children.
We originally posted this little story about a year ago, but since those pesky pixies seem to have pulled it down, we are re-publishing it today for Japan’s Labor Thanksgiving Day holiday and because Tengo was such a great workman (or at least labor producer).
I have included photo extracts from the Kasuga Gongen Genki E (春日権現験記絵) scrolls painted in 1309 on silk using silver and gold paints, showing carpenters working on the Kasuga Temple jobsite.
My children and I enjoyed this story. Perhaps you and yours will too.
The Tale of Tengo and Tenjin
Once upon a time there was a very good carpenter. But he was sad because he lived alone, so he asked the prettiest girl in the village to be his bride.
She did not want to marry, but to put him off without hurting his feelings, she decided to charge him with an impossible task.
“If you will build me a big house with 60 tatami mats in a single day, then I will marry you.” (60 tatami mats = approx 99 square meters = 1065 sqft based on the standard modern tatami mat)
The carpenter was shocked by this demand, but because he wanted her for his bride, he boldly accepted the challenge saying: “I will build you this house in one day.”
His voice rang with confidence as he said this, but he despaired in his heart knowing he could not build such a large and beautiful house in one day. He thought to himself “ What shall I do, what shall I do?”
But never fear, because as you have probably guessed, our carpenter was no ordinary fellow to give up easily. Before long he came up with a plan.
He made 2,000 dolls out of straw and breathed on each while casting a magical spell transforming them all into human carpenters.
The carpenter and his 2,000 man crew then went to work.
With the assistance of his 2,000 helpers, the carpenter completed building his bride-to-be’s house before the sun went down that day,
Overjoyed, the carpenter flew to the pretty girl’s house to tell her of his success. “I have finished the house you asked for. Please marry me now!”
“Truly?” she asked. Upon inspecting the work she found a big, beautiful house with 60 tatami mats, just as she had asked. “I will marry you.” she said.
And thus the prettiest girl in the village became the carpenter’s bride.
The carpenter and his bride then moved into their happy new home.
Afterwards, the 2,000 carpenters scattered throughout Japan to build houses, temples and bridges and teach many other carpenters how to build beautiful things for many years.
After several happy years had passed, the bride said to her husband “I have been silent up to now, but the time has come to tell you the whole truth. I am not really a human being, but an angel named Tenjin. I came down to earth from the kingdom of heaven. But the time has now come for me to return to heaven.”
The carpenter replied: “Ah, well, now that you mention it, I’m not a human being either, but a carpenter god named Tengo. Let’s both return to heaven together.”
So Tengo and Tenjin rose high into heaven where they still live happily ever after.
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