On some of the beautiful vases that are made in Japan there is a picture of a goddess changing a dragon into an island. When the children of Japan say, "Mother, tell us a story about the picture," this is what the mother says:—
"Long, long ago there was a goddess of the sea who loved the people of Japan. She often came out of the water at sunset, and while all the bright colors were in the sky, she would sit on a high rock that overlooked the water and tell stories to the children. Such wonderful stories as they were! She used to tell them all about the strange fishes that swim in and out among the rocks and the mosses, and about the fair maidens that live deep down in the sea far under the waves. The children would ask, 'Are there no children in the sea? Why do they never come out to play with us?' The goddess would answer, 'Some time they will come, if you only keep on wishing for them. What children really wish for they will surely have some day.'
"Then the goddess would sing to the children, and her voice was so sweet that the evening star would stand still in the sky to listen to her song. 'Please show us how the water rises and falls,' the children would beg, and she would hold up a magic stone that she had and say, 'Water, rise!' Then the waves would come in faster and faster all about the rock. When she laid down the stone and said, 'Water, fall!' the waves would be still, and the water would roll back quickly to the deep sea. She was goddess of the storm as well as of the sea, and sometimes the children would say, 'Dear goddess, please make us a storm.' She never said no to what they asked, and so the rain would fall, the lightning flare, and the thunder roll. The rain would fall all about them, but the goddess did not let it come near them. They were never afraid of the lightning, for it was far above their heads, and they knew that the goddess would not let it come down.
"Those were happy times, but there is something more to tell that is not pleasant. One of the goddess's sea-animals was a dragon, that often used to play in the water near the shore. The children never thought of being afraid of any of the sea-animals, but one day the cruel dragon seized a little child in his mouth, and in a moment he had eaten it. There was sadness over the land of Japan. There were tears and sorrowful wailing. 'O goddess,' the people cried, 'come to us! Punish the wicked dragon!'
"The goddess was angry that one of her creatures should have dared to harm the little child, and she called aloud, 'Dragon, come to me.' The dragon came in a moment, for he did not dare to stay away. Then said the goddess, 'You shall never again play merrily in the water with the happy sea-animals. You shall be a rocky island. There shall be trees and plants on you, and before many years have gone, people will no longer remember that you were once an animal.'
"The dragon found that he could no longer move about as he had done, for he was changing into rock. Trees and plants grew on his back. He was an island, and when people looked at it, they said, 'That island was once a wicked dragon.' The children of the sea and the children of the land often went to the island, and there they had very happy times together."
This is the story that the mothers tell to their children when they look at the vases and see the picture of the goddess changing a dragon into an island. But when the children say, "Mother, where is the island? Cannot we go to it and play with the sea-children?" the mother answers, "Oh, this was all a long, long time ago, and no one can tell now where the island was."