L ONG, long ago, in the good old days before the hairy-faced and pale-cheeked men from over the Sea of Great Peace came to Japan; before the black coal-smoke and snorting iron horse scared the white heron from the rice-fields; before black crows and fighting sparrows, which fear not man, perched on telegraph wires, or ever a railway was thought of, there lived two Frogs—one in a well in Kioto, the other in a lotus-pond in Osaka, forty miles away.
Now it is a common proverb in the Land of the Gods that "the frog in the well knows not the great ocean," and the Kioto Frog had so often heard this scornful sneer from the maids who came to draw out water, with their long bamboo-handled buckets that he resolved to travel abroad and see the world, and especially the great ocean.
"I'll see for myself," said Mr. Frog, as he packed his wallet and wiped his spectacles, "what this great ocean is that they talk so much about. I'll wager it isn't half as deep or wide as my well, where I can see the stars even at daylight."
Now the truth was, a recent earthquake had greatly reduced the depth of the well and the water was getting very shallow. Mr. Frog informed the family of his intentions. Mrs. Frog wept a great deal; but, drying her eyes with her paper handkerchief, she declared she would count the hours on her fingers till he came back, and at every morning and evening meal would set out his table with food on it, just as if he were at home. She tied up a little lacquered box full of boiled rice and snails for his journey, wrapped it around with a silk napkin, and, putting his extra clothes in a bundle, swung it on his back. Tying it over his neck, he seized his staff and was ready to go.
"Sayonara," cried he, as, with a tear in his eye, he walked away; for that is the Japanese for "good-bye."
"Sayonara," croaked Mrs. Frog and the whole family of young frogs in a chorus.
Two of the tiniest froggies were still babies, that is, they were yet pollywogs, with a half inch of tail still on them; and, of course, were carried about by being strapped on the back of their older brothers.
Mr. Frog being now on land, out of his well, noticed that the other animals did not leap, but walked upright on their hind legs; and, not wishing to be eccentric, he likewise began briskly walking the same way.
Now it happened that about the same time the Osaka Frog had become restless and dissatisfied with life on the edges of his lotus-ditch. He had made up his mind to "cast the lion's cub into the valley."
"Why! that is tall talk for a frog, I must say!" you may exclaim. "What did he mean?"
To see what he meant, we will go back a bit. I must tell you that the Osaka Frog was a philosopher. Right at the edge of his lotus-pond was a monastery, full of Buddhist monks, who every day studied their sacred rolls and droned over the books of the sage, to learn them by heart. Our frog had heard then) so often that he could (in frog language, of course) repeat many of their wise sentences and intone responses to their evening prayers put up by the great idol Amida. Indeed, our Frog had so often listened to their debates on texts from the classics that he had himself become a sage and a philosopher. Yet, as the proverb says, "the sage is not happy."
Why not? In spite of a soft mud-bank, plenty of green scum, stagnant water, and shady lotus leaves, a fat wife, and a numerous family—in short, everything to make a frog happy—his forehead, or rather gullet, was wrinkled with care from long pondering of knotty problems, such as the following:
The monks often came down to the edge of the pond to look at the pink and white lotus. One summer day, as a little frog, hardly out of his tadpole state, with a small fragment of tail still left, sat basking on a huge round leaf, one monk said to another:
"Of what does that remind you?"
"The babies of frogs will become but frogs," said one shaven pate, laughing.
"What think you?"
"The white lotus flower springs out of the black mud," said the other, solemnly, as both walked away.
The old Frog, sitting near by, overheard them and began to philosophize: "Humph! The babies of frogs will become but frogs, hey? If mud becomes lotus, why shouldn't a frog become a man? Why not? If my pet son should travel abroad and see the world—go to Kioto, for instance—why shouldn't he be as wise as those shining-headed men, I wonder? I shall try it, anyhow. I'll send my son on a journey to Kioto. I'll 'cast the lion's cub into the valley,'" which, you see, meant pretty much the same thing.
Plump! splash! sounded the water, as a pair of webby feet disappeared. The "lion's cub" was soon ready, after much paternal advice, and much counsel to beware of being gobbled up by long-legged storks, and trod on by impolite men, and struck at by bad boys.
"Even in the Capital there are boors," said Father Frog.
Now it so happened that the old Frog from Kioto and the "lion's cub" from Osaka started each from his home at the same time. Nothing of importance occurred to either of them until, as luck would have it, they met on a hill near Hashimoto, which is half-way between the two cities. Both were footsore, and websore, and very tired, especially about the hips, on account of the unfroglike manner of walking, instead of hopping as they had been used to.
"Ohio gozarimasu," said the "lion's cub" to the old Frog, by way of "good-morning," as he fell on all-fours and bowed his head to the ground three times, squinting up over his left eye, to see if the other Frog was paying equal deference in return.
"Yes, good-day," replied the Kioto Frog.
"It is rather fine weather to-day," said the youngster.
"Yes, it is very fine," replied the old fellow.
"I am Gamataro, from Osaka, the oldest son of Lord Bullfrog, Prince of the Lotus-Ditch."
"Your Lordship must be weary with your journey. I am Sir Frog of the Well in Kioto. I started out to see the 'great ocean' from Osaka; but, I declare, my hips are so dreadfully tired that I believe that I'll give up my plan and content myself with a look from this hill."
The truth must be owned that the old Frog was not only on his hind legs, but also on his last legs, when he stood up to look at Osaka; while the youngster was tired enough to believe anything. The old fellow, wiping his face, spoke up:
"Suppose we save ourselves the trouble of the journey. I have been told that this bill is halfway between the two cities, and while I see Osaka and the sea, you can get a good look at Kioto."
"Happy thought!" said the Osaka Frog.
Then both reared themselves upon their hind-legs, once more, and stretching upon their toes, body to body, and neck to neck, propped each other up, rolled their goggles and looked steadily, as they supposed, on the places which they each wished to see. Now every one knows that a frog has eyes mounted in that part of his head which is front when he is down and back when he stands up.
Long and steadily they gazed, until, at last, their toes being tired, they fell down on all-fours.
"I declare I "said the older Frog, "Osaka looks just like Kioto; and as for the 'great ocean' those stupid maids talked about, I don't see any at all, unless they mean that strip of river that looks for all the world like the Yodo. I don't believe there is any 'great ocean'!"
"As for my part," said the other, "I am satisfied that it's all folly to go further; for Kioto is as like Osaka as one grain of rice is like another."
Thereupon both congratulated themselves upon the happy labor-saving expedient by which they had spared themselves a long journey, much leg-weariness, and some danger. They departed, after exchanging many compliments; and, dropping again into a frog's hop, they leaped back in half the time—the one to his well and the other to his pond. There each told the story of both cities looking exactly alike; thus demonstrating the folly of those foolish folks called Men. As for the old gentleman in the lotus-pond, he was so glad to get the "cub" back again that he never again tried to reason out the problems of philosophy.
And so to this day the frog in the well knows not and believes not in the "great ocean." Still do the babies of frogs become but frogs. Still is it vain to teach the reptiles philosophy; for all such labor is "like pouring water in a frog's face."