Gateway to the Classics: Fairy Tales of Old Japan by William E. Griffis
Fairy Tales of Old Japan by  William E. Griffis

The Wonderful Tea-Kettle

A LONG time ago there was an old priest who lived in a temple and was very devout. He was also very poor. He cooked his own rice, boiled his own tea, swept his own floor, and lived frugally as an honest priest should do.

One day the kettle in which he boiled water for his tea got broken, and he did not know what to do, as he had no money to buy a new one. But the next morning, behold! a shiny brass tea-kettle was sitting outside his door. Overjoyed he returned thanks, and built a fire in the square fireplace in the middle of the floor. A rope and chain to hold the rice-pot and tea-kettle hung down from the covered hole in the ceiling which did duty as a chimney. A pair of brass tongs was stuck in the ashes, and soon the fire blazed merrily. At the side of the fireplace, on the floor, was his tray filled with tiny teacups, a pewter tea-caddy, a bamboo tea-stirrer, and a little dipper. The priest having finished sweeping the ashes off the edges of the hearth with a little whisk-broom made of hawk's feathers, was just about to put on the tea when "suzz, suzz," sang the shiny tea-kettle spout; and then "pattari—pattari!" said the lid, as it flapped up and down, and the kettle swung backward and forward.

"What does this mean?" said the old priest with a start; for, wonder of wonders, the spout of the kettle had turned into a badger's nose with its big whiskers, while from the other side sprouted out a long bushy tail!


The spout of the kettle had turned into a badger's nose.

"Ho, ho!" cried the priest, with a long string of Japanese words which would sound strange to you. And in terror he dropped the tea-caddy, spilling the green tea all over the matting, as four hairy legs appeared under the kettle, and the strange compound, half badger and half kettle, jumped off the fire, and began running around the room. To the priest's horror it leaped on a shelf, puffed out its belly and began to beat a tune with its fore-paws as if it were a drum. The old priest's pupils, hearing the racket, rushed in, and after a lively chase, upsetting piles of books and breaking some of the teacups, secured the badger, and squeezed him into a keg used for storing pickled radishes. They fastened down the lid with a heavy stone, and felt sure that the strong odor of the radishes would kill the beast, for no man could possibly survive such a smell, and it was not likely a badger could.

The next morning the tinker of the village called in and the priest told him about his strange visitor. Wishing to show him the animal, he cautiously lifted the lid of the cask, lest the badger might, after all, be still alive, in spite of the strong vinegar pickles, when lo! there was nothing but the shiny brass tea-kettle. Fearing that the utensil might play the same prank again, the priest was glad to sell it to the tinker, who on his part secretly thought the priest had been dreaming, and was glad to give another kettle in exchange for it, and some cash to boot. He carried it proudly to his junk shop, though he thought it felt unusually heavy.

The tinker went to bed as usual that night with his tiny paper shaded lamp just back of his head. About midnight, hearing a strange noise like the flapping up and down of a pot-lid, he sat up in bed, rubbed his eyes, and there was the bewitched tea-kettle covered with fur and sprouting out legs. In short, it was turning into a hairy beast.

"Don't beat me or shut me in a vinegar keg," it said, "for I am really kind-hearted and wish you well."

"What can I do for you?" asked the tinker.

"Feed me a little rice now and then, and don't put me on the fire as that stupid priest did. Look here."

Going over to a corner of the room and taking a fan from the rack, the badger climbed up on the frame of the lamp, and began to dance on its one hind leg, waving the fan with its fore-paw. It played many other tricks, until the man started up, and then the badger turned into a tea-kettle again.

"I declare," said the tinker as he woke up next morning, and talked the matter over with his wife. "I'll just 'raise a mountain' on this kettle. It certainly is a very highly accomplished tea-kettle. I'll call it by some high-sounding name and exhibit it to the public."

"You've been dreaming," scoffed his wife; "that's only an ordinary brass tea-kettle."

"Just watch it and see," replied the tinker.

So they watched the next night, and sure enough it turned into a badger again.

The delighted tinker hired a professional showman for his business agent, and built a little theatre and stage. Then he gave an order to a friend of his, an artist, to paint scenery, with the sacred mountain Fuji yama in the background and cranes flying through the air, a crimson sun shining through the bamboo, a red moon rising over the waves, with golden clouds and tortoises and such like. Then he stretched a tight rope of rice-straw across the stage, and the handbills being stuck up in all the barber shops in town, and wooden tickets branded with "Accomplished and Lucky Tea-Kettle Performance, Admit One,"—the show was opened. The house was speedily filled, the people coming in parties, bringing their teapots full of tea and picnic boxes full of rice, and eggs, and dumplings made of millet meal, sugared roast-pea cakes, and other refreshments; because they came to stay all day. Mothers brought their babies with them, for the children enjoyed it most of all.

Then the tinker, dressed up in his wide ceremonial clothes, with a big fan in his hand, came out on the platform, made his politest bow and set the wonderful tea-kettle on the stage. At a wave of his fan, the kettle ran around on four legs, half badger and half kettle, clanking its lid and wagging its tail. How the children shouted; and so should you and I if we could only have been there! Next it turned into a badger, swelled out its body and beat a tune on it like a drum. It danced a jig on the tight rope, and walked the slack rope, holding a fan, or an umbrella in its paw, stood on its head, and finally at a flourish of its master's fan became a cold brass tea-kettle again. The audience were wild with delight, and as the fame of the wonderful tea-kettle spread, many people came from great distances to see it perform.

Year after year the tinker exhibited the wonder until he grew immensely rich. Then he retired from the show business, and out of gratitude took the old kettle to the temple again and deposited it there as a precious relic. The old priest was given a goodly sum of money to do nothing else but take care of it; and all his life it had all the rice and dumplings it wanted. After his death it turned into an ordinary kettle, and has stayed so ever since. If you don't believe it, you can go to the temple some day and see it for yourself.

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