The following is an old tale from Japan’s Toyama Prefecture. It’s not exactly a Christmas story, but includes all the classical elements a story shared on a cold winter’s eve must have: A beautiful maiden, a cranky blacksmith, an elemental creature, magic, weapons of death and destruction, an impossible challenge, and of course…, chickens. I hope you enjoy it.
Long long ago and far far away in a country in Japan called Etchu (modern day Toyama Prefecture) there was a large blacksmith’s shop.
The owner of the smithy, called “Master Blacksmith,” was well-to-do with many craftsmen working for him. He lived in a big house called a chouja.
Master Blacksmith had a single daughter of marriageable age, a rare beauty with almond eyes and long black hair shiny as a raven’s wing.
One day he announced to all the craftsmen in the area that he would give the hand of this daughter to the first suitor to forge 1,000 spearheads in a single night.
But no matter how skilled, every weapons blacksmith knows that it’s impossible to forge 1,000 spearheads in a single night, so his challenge went unanswered.
Master Blacksmith decided he needed to expand his offer and so put up a notice board describing his challenge alongside the main road for passersby to see, and waited for skilled craftsmen to appear.
Lo and behold an ogre that lived on a nearby mountain meandered by late one night and saw the notice. It did a little jig the way happy ogres do and gleefully exclaimed “Ha ha hee heee! A thousand spearheads is easy for meee!
The next morning, using the elemental magic that many ogres have, it changed his appearance to that of a young man and went down the mountain to Master Blacksmith’s house.
The Master looked doubtfully at the ogre in the shape of a young man and disdainfully said “What makes a young fella like you think he can make a thousand spearheads in one night?”
The ogre responded, “I can do it. I will surely make them before the cock crows in the morning.”
Thinking he had nothing to loose, the Master responded: “Then make them if you can.”
As the sun went down, the ogre in the shape of a young man went into the smithy, closed the doors, and began working.
Master Blacksmith heard sounds like the wind blowing from inside his smithy, but nary the sound of a hammer striking metal or the ringing of an anvil. Perplexed, he said to himself “What can he be doing in there?”
Slipping quietly around to the back of his smithy and peeking through a crack in the siding boards, Master Blacksmith was shocked as he had never been shocked before because he saw fire spewing from the young man’s mouth as he bent and folded and shaped yellow-hot steel in his bare hands like it was warm taffy!
Before his eyes a smoking stack of completed spearheads quickly grew. It became obvious to Master Blacksmith that all 1,000 spearheads would be finished well before dawn.
Fearful for his tender daughter, Master Blacksmith realized he had to do something to stop the strange young man from successfully completing the challenge, so he thought and thought and thought until his thinker overheated.
“The only way out of this mess I have made is for the cock to crow before all 1,000 spearheads are completed,” he eventually reasoned. Following this logic to it’s natural conclusion, he took a jar of hot water into the chicken coop where the chickens were all fast asleep dreaming of stretchy worms and crunchy beetles.
Desperate to make even a single chicken crow, he poured the hot water on the roost where the chickens slept soundly. The surprised chickens all woke at once in a panic with the hens squacking, cackling, and screaming while the roosters all crowed out “Cock-a-doodly dooooo!”
Hearing this racket from the chicken coop the ogre in the form of a young man became frightened, wailing out “I have been discovered!”
Instantly, the magic that had changed its appearance popped like a soap bubble revealing the ogre’s supernatural red skin, yellow horns, and shiny white fangs again. The ogre ran out of the smithy like ten stampeding bulls raising a cloud of smoke all the way back to the mountain where it came from never to be seen again.
With this, the blacksmith rubbed his chest and exclaimed in relief “I see, he was an ogre after all!”
“And just what is this?” he said as he walked fearfully over the shattered remains of the front door to his smithy and peered inside in amazement at the stack of smoking-hot, sparkling spearheads left behind by the ogre. Indeed, it turned out the red ogre had left behind exactly 999 completed spearheads, each wonderfully made.
From that day forward the blacksmith’s shop was famous for the quality of its spearheads, which are still known as “ogre-spears.”
And the blacksmith became wealthier than ever.
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