The Princess of the Bowl

Long, long ago, in old Japan, there lived near Katano, in the Kawachi Province, a prince named Bitchu-no-Kami Minetaka or Lord Minetaka, as we should say in English. He was not only a very wealthy man, but it was reported that his house was full of rare and wonderful treasures. He was also a learned man and the master of many accomplishments. His life was passed in the luxurious leisure of the rich, and he knew nothing of care or want—perhaps he hardly realized what such words meant.

But above all the treasures in his storehouse, beyond the wealth of his revenue which came pouring in year by year in bushels of rice, he prized his only child, his daughter. The prince and his wife brought this daughter up with great love and tenderness as if she were some rare flower or fragile butterfly. So beautiful indeed was the young girl that in looking at her their friends and relations wondered whether the Sun Goddess Amaterasu had not come to earth again in the form of the little Princess.

Nothing came to mar the happiness of this united little family till the daughter was fifteen years of age. Then suddenly the mother, who had never known a day’s illness in her whole life, was taken ill. At first it seemed to be but a slight cold, but her health, instead of getting better, only grew worse and worse. She felt that she would never recover and that her end was very near, so she called her daughter beside her pillow, and, taking a large lacquer bowl from the bedside, she placed it on her daughter’s head, saying: “My poor little child, I want you always to wear this bowl. At your innocent age you can understand nothing of the world in which I must leave you motherless. I pity you with all my heart; ah! if you were at least seventeen or eighteen years old I could die with more peace of mind. I am indeed loath to go, leaving you behind so young. Try to be a good daughter and never forget your mother.” The woman’s tears fell fast as she spoke, and her voice was broken with sobs while she stroked her little girl’s hand. But things are not as one wishes in this life. All the doctor’s skill could not save the mother; she died and left her daughter behind motherless in the world.

Words cannot tell the grief of the bereaved father and child, it was so great. At last, after some time had passed and the ordinary routine of life in Prince Minetaka’s household was resumed, the father noticed the bowl which his daughter wore on her head and which fell so low as completely to hide her face; and calling her to him tried to take off the unsightly head gear. But his efforts were in vain. All the retainers and then the servants were summoned to see what they could do, but no one could remove the bowl; it stuck fast to the child’s head. No one could understand the mystery. The bowl had been put on most simply; why could it not be as easily taken off? This was the question which the whole household asked again and again.

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And the young Princess, besides sorrowing for the loss of her mother, was greatly troubled at the knowledge that, though born physically perfect, she was now quite disfigured for life in having to wear the ugly bowl which her mother for some unknown reason had placed on her head. If no one succeeded in taking the bowl off, she might have to wear it her whole life. That would indeed be a terrible affliction. But in spite of all she never forgot her mother even for a moment, but carried in her heart the memory of her love and care through every hour of the livelong day. Every morning, as soon as she rose from her bed on the mats, she placed the little cup of tea and the bowl of rice before the tablet bearing her mother’s name in the household shrine, and having set the incense burning she would kneel and pray for the happiness of her mother’s soul.

The days passed into weeks, the weeks grew into months, yet the dutiful daughter never failed morning or evening thus to pray for her lost mother.

In the mean time the family relations often came to advise her father, Prince Minetaka, to marry again.

“It is not good for you to be alone,” they said. “Marry a suitable woman and entrust her with the keeping of your house and the care of your young daughter, who is now of an age when she most needs a woman’s care.”

At first Prince Minetaka would not listen to them, the memory of his dead wife was too fresh and his sorrow too keen for him to be able to lend a willing ear to their persuasion. He felt that it was a reproach to her he had loved even to think of putting another woman in her place. But as the months went by he found himself much tried with the affairs of the household, and was often so perplexed that he thought perhaps it might be better to listen to the advice of his meddling relations. So without thinking much about the future he decided to take a second wife.

His friends were glad to find that their persuasions were of avail at last, and with the help of go-betweens they arranged that he should marry a certain lady of noble family whom they deemed worthy and suitable in all respects.

So the soothsayers were consulted and a lucky day chosen for the marriage, and the new wife was then installed in Prince Minetaka’s home amidst the congratulations of both families. The little Princess alone was sorrowful in her inmost heart at seeing some one take her mother’s place; but it would be unfilial to her father to show that for one instant she did not approve of his second marriage, so she hid her unhappiness and smiled.

On seeing the little Princess for the first time, the stepmother was shocked at the deformity of the bowl, and said to herself that never had she even dreamed that there could be any one in the world doomed to be such an ugly cripple. She not only despised but hated her stepchild from the moment that she saw her. This new wife was indeed a very different woman from her predecessor, whose heart was so good and kind towards all who came near her that the idea of disliking, much less hating any one was impossible to her.

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A year passed by and the stepmother gave birth to a child. Jealousy for her own infant daughter now made her hate her stepchild more and more. It was her great desire to see her own daughter first in Prince Minetaka’s affection, and in order to attain her utterly selfish end she knew she must oust her stepchild from the house. To begin with, she determined to estrange the father from the little Princess by telling him unfavourable stories of her behaviour and her character. It is needless to say that she invented these stories.

The Bowl-Wearing Princess soon understood that her stepmother hated her. Her grief and anxiety seemed to her more than she could bear. There was no one in the house in whom she could confide, and she knew that to complain of her stepmother to any one, even to her father, would be undutiful. What was she to do in her trouble? To whom could she go but to her own mother? So as often as she could she went to her grave. Here she would kneel and pour out the woe that filled her heart.

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“O mother, why must I live on in the world with this ugly bowl on my head? My stepmother truly has a reason for hating such a child about the house. Now that she has a daughter of her own, all the more must she want to get rid of me! And my father, who used to love me so much, he too will surely soon give all his love to his new daughter and forget me! Alas! Alas! the only place that is left to me to come to without fear of dislike is the side of my own dead mother. O mother, sitting upon the lotus leaves in Paradise, receive me now upon the same leaf. Oh! that I might thus escape the sorrow of this world and enter upon the way of Buddha!”

But the Boundary of Life and Death separated the mother and child, and though she prayed earnestly and with tears, lifting her whole heart and soul up in her despair, no answer came to her eagerly listening ear. As she knelt in the little graveyard only the sound of the wind sighing in the pine trees answered her. But the thought that she had told her mother everything comforted her as she returned home.

The stepmother was told of her stepdaughter’s frequent visits to the graveyard, and instead of being touched with pity for the motherless girl, she made use of the occasion still further to slander the child to her husband. “I am told that the Bowl-Wearer, your daughter, goes to her mother’s grave and curses me and my child because of her jealousy! What do you think of that? Hasn’t she a wicked heart?”

Day by day she watched the little girl wend her way from the house to the graveyard and day by day she repeated in her husband’s ear her pretended fears. In her heart she knew quite well that it was only love and unhappiness that sent her unfortunate stepchild to the grave of her mother. At last she said that she was afraid of the evil that might befall her and her child through the Bowl-Wearer’s malice; she had decided that they could no longer live together in the same house.

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The father, who had hitherto never listened much to his wife’s tales, was at last persuaded by her importunity into believing them true. So in an evil hour he summoned his daughter and said: “What is this I hear, wicked daughter? Your deformity has long since been a source of irritation to me, but as long as you behaved well, I put up with it. Now I am told that you go every day to the grave of your mother to curse my wife and her innocent little child. It is impossible for me to keep under my roof any one who is so crippled not only in body but in mind as you are. Go wherever you will from to-day, but longer in this house you shall not stay!”

While the father was speaking these terrible words the stepmother sat behind him, smiling in derision at the poor little Princess and in triumph at the success of her wicked stratagem.

“Woe to the Bowl-Wearing Princess!”

The servants, at the command of her father, took off her silken robes and put on her a miserable common cotton gown, such as beggars wear, and drove her out into the road.

The Princess was altogether bewildered at the suddenness of her misfortune.

She felt like a wanderer in an unknown land, lost in the darkness of night. So distracted was she at first that she could only stand still in the middle of the street, not knowing which way to turn. But people, passing by, stared at her so that she soon realized that she must not stand like that all day, so she began to move whither her feet led her.

In this way she came to the bank of a large river. As she stood and looked at the flowing water, she could not help thinking that it would be far better for her to become the dust of the river-bed than endure the hardships of her present lot. Would it not be better to die and so join her mother than wander about like a beggar from place to place begging her rice? With this thought she made up her mind to drown herself. But the roar of the river was so great as it dashed over the boulders of its rocky bed that the maiden hesitated at first. Then, summoning up all her courage with a desperate effort, she jumped in.

Strange to say, however, the bowl, which had hitherto been such a curse to her, was now a blessing. It lifted her head clear above the water and would not let her sink. As she floated down the stream a fishing-boat came by. The fisherman, seeing a big bowl rising out of the water, lifted it up. His surprise was great when underneath the bowl he found a human being. Thinking it to be some strange monster, he threw it upon the bank.

The poor girl was at first stunned by her fall. When she came to herself, she said that it was a pity she could not die as she had wished. She got up from the ground and, in a miserable plight, for her clothes were dripping with water, began to walk on, and after some time she found herself in the streets of a town.

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Here the people, as soon as they saw her, began to point the finger of scorn at her, and to jeer and laugh at the strange-looking bowl on her head.

“Oh! oh! do you see this queer creature with the bowl coming down from the mountains? Look! Look!” Then as some of them came nearer they said: “It is strange that a monster should have such beautiful hands and feet. What a pity this creature was not born a woman!”

Just then the lord of the district passed by on his way home from the hunt. Seeing the gathering of people, he stopped and inquired what was the matter. His retainers pointed out the Bowl-Wearer to him. From the grace of her slender form, and the modesty of her bearing, Lord Yamakage judged her to be a young woman, though he could not of course see her face, which was completely hidden by the bowl. He ordered the Bowl-Wearer to be brought to him. Two or three of his retainers went to execute his orders, and came back bringing the poor unhappy Princess with them. “Tell me the truth,” said Lord Yamakage to the girl; “who or what are you?”

“I am the daughter of one Minetaka by name, and my home is near Katano. My mother, when dying, placed this bowl on my head, and since her death it has become so firmly fixed there that no one can take it off, and I am obliged to wear it always, as you see me now. Because of the unsightliness of my appearance I have been driven away from my home. No one takes pity on me, and I am forced to wander from place to place without knowing where to lay my head at night.”

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“Well, well!” said the kind man. “Your story is truly a pitiful one. I will take the bowl off for you!”

When he had said these words, Lord Yamakage ordered his retainers to pull off the bowl from the girl’s head. The men, one and all, tried to free the Princess from the obnoxious bowl, but it stuck so obstinately to her head that all their efforts were useless. It even uttered loud cries and groans of pain as they tugged at it. Every one was dumbfounded at the inexplicable mystery, and at last they all began to laugh.

When Lord Yamakage saw that there was nothing to be done to help her, he spoke to the Bowl-Wearer again. “Where are you going to spend to-night?”

“I am quite homeless,” answered the Bowl-Wearer, in a heartbroken way, “and I do not know where I shall lay my head to-night. There is no one in the wide world to take pity on me, and every one who sees me either jeers or runs away because of the bowl on my head.”

Lord Yamakage felt his heart fill with pity and said: “It may bring luck to have such a strange creature in my house!” Then he turned to the girl and said: “How would you like to come home with me for the present, Bowl-Wearer?” And with these words he gave her in charge of his attendants, who took her with them to their lord’s house.

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It was an easy matter to take her to the house, but not so easy to find her a place there. His wife objected to her becoming a waiting-maid, saying that no one could bear the sight of so strange a creature about. So the servants at last took her to the bath-room, and told her that she must fetch and carry the water and look after the fire for heating the bath. This was to be her work!

As the little Princess had never done such rough work in the whole of her life, she suffered much in obeying these cruel orders; but she resigned herself to her fate and tried with all humility and patience to perform her hard task faultlessly.

But her lot was far from being a happy one, even though she had found the safe shelter of Lord Yamakage’s home. The young and uncouth tradesmen, coming on errands to the house, made fun of her, some even trying to peep under the bowl to get a glimpse of the beautiful face beneath. While she was thus persecuted in the daytime, in the evening the servants gave her no rest with their peremptory orders. “Hot water here!” “Cold water there!” “Get the bath ready!” and so on.

The poor girl bore all this rude usage patiently; but as she went about her work she could not help remembering the old times of her happy childhood, spent under the loving care of her own dear mother, of the honoured place she had held in her father’s household till within the last few days; and as she carried the hot water or stoked the bath-fire she pretended that those fast-falling tears of sadness were caused by the fumes of charcoal and the steam which rose from the hot water. When she crept weeping to bed at night it seemed to her as if the past day must be an evil dream.

Lord Yamakage had four sons. The three elder ones were married to daughters of three of the leading men of the province. The youngest son, Saisho, was still unmarried. He had been away for some time in the gay smart capital of Kyoto. But now he returned to his home.

Now every time he went to take his bath or called for hot water, he saw the Bowl-Wearing maiden, and, as he had a kind and compassionate heart, he could not but be touched by her unhappy appearance, and her modest and gentle behaviour and her quickness and diligence at her work.

Whenever he had an opportunity he spoke to the Bowl-Wearer, and to his surprise he found that she was no servant, that she spoke in the refined language of his class, and though so young she was well read in the literature and poetry of her country, and could answer a literary allusion wittily and to the point. When at last she told him something of her sad story, he knew, though she did not tell him, that she belonged to some family of high rank. From this time on he often spoke to the girl, and he found that the stolen conversations with her grew to be the chief pleasure of the day.

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One day he managed to take a sly peep under the bowl. The face, even though overshadowed by the huge cover, was of such rare beauty that he fell madly in love with the Princess, and made up his mind that none other than the Bowl-Wearer should be his wife.

His mother soon heard of Saisho’s friendship for her husband’s protege, and when she learned that he had promised to marry her she forbade him to think of such a thing. She at first thought that her son could not be in earnest, but when she sent for Saisho and asked him seriously if what she had been told was true, he answered: “I really and truly intend to make the Bowl-Wearer my wife!”

His mother was not a little angry at his determined front. How could Saisho fall in love with a girl with a bowl on her head? Who ever heard of such ridiculous nonsense?

Then she sent for her son’s nurse, the woman who had nursed him from the day he was born, and together they tried to deter him from his purpose.

Saisho was obliged to listen to all they had to say, but did not answer them. He could not say “Yes” to their demand that he should give up all idea of marrying the Bowl-Wearer, and he knew that if he firmly said “No” he would raise up such a storm of opposition that no one could tell how it would end. He knew that the life of the Bowl-Wearer was a truly pitiable one, and his determination to marry her and help her out of all her difficulties remained unchanged.

His mother soon saw that her son would by no means listen to her persuasions, and her anger was great towards the Bowl-Wearer. She almost made up her mind to drive her from the house before her husband could know what happened. Saisho, on hearing this, told her that if the girl was driven away he would go with her. The mother’s distraction can be imagined, for she was thwarted in every way. She at last said that the Bowl-Wearer was a wicked witch who had thrown her spells over Saisho and would not leave him till she had compassed his death.

She determined if possible to separate them by fair means or foul. For a long time she pondered over the matter, and at last hit upon a stratagem which she trusted would rid the house of the presence of the obnoxious girl. Her plan she called “The Comparison of the Brides.” She would hold in the house a family council of all the relations, and assemble the wives of her three elder sons, and before the whole gathering compare them with the Bowl-Wearer whom Saisho had elected to marry. If the Bowl-Wearer had any self-respect she would be too conscious of her deformity and her poverty, and too ashamed to make an appearance,—would leave the house to escape from the ordeal. What an excellent plan! Why had she never thought of this before?

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So the mother sent messengers post-haste to all the family and relations, requesting their presence at a “Bride Comparing Ceremony” and a feast which would close the ceremony.

When Saisho heard of this he was greatly troubled, for he knew what it meant. His mother meant to drive the girl he loved from the house by comparing her with his brothers’ rich and pretty wives. What was to be done? How could he help the poor Bowl-Wearer?

The little Princess saw how unhappy he was, and blamed herself, she was so sorry for him.

“It is all because of me that this trouble has come to you. Instead of happiness I have only brought you worry. Woe is me! It is better that I go away at once,” said the girl.

Saisho told her at once that he would never let her go alone; that if she went he would go with her.

At last the day fixed for the ceremony of the “Comparison of the Brides” came round. Saisho and the unhappy little Bowl-Wearer rose before the dawn, and taking each other by the hand left the house together.

Notwithstanding his love for the Bowl-Wearer and his resolve to marry her at whatever cost, Saisho was very sad at the thought of leaving his parents in this way. He told himself that they would never forgive his obstinacy and probably would refuse to see him again, so this parting was probably forever. He felt at each step as if his heart was torn backwards. With slow steps he and the Bowl-Wearer, hand in hand, wended their way down the garden. No sooner, however, did they put their feet outside the gate than the bowl on the girl’s head burst with a loud noise and fell in a thousand pieces upon the ground.

What untold joy for both of them! Saisho, too astonished to speak, looked for the first time full on the girl’s face. The beauty of the damsel was so dazzling that he could compare it only to the glory of the full moon as it rides triumphantly above the clouds on the fifteenth night of September. Her figure, too, now that the dwarfing bowl had gone, was more graceful than anything he had ever seen. The young lovers, too happy for words at this unexpected deliverance, could do nothing but gaze at each other.

The mother’s purpose in covering her daughter’s head with the hideous bowl was at last made clear. Fearing that her daughter’s beauty would prove to be a peril to her, with no mother to watch over her, she had hidden it thus, and the intensity of her wish had assumed supernatural power, so that all attempts to remove it were useless till the moment came when it was no longer needed; then it broke off of its own accord.

At last the lovers stooped to pick up the pieces of the bowl, when to their amazement they found the ground strewn with treasures and all that a bride could possibly need for her portion. There were many gold kanzashi (ornamental pins for the hair), silver wine-cups, many precious stones and gold coins, and a wedding-garment of twelve folded kimono, and a hakama of brilliant scarlet brocade.

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“Oh, surely,” said the Princess, “these treasures must be what my mother prepared for my marriage portion. Indeed a mother’s tender love is above everything!”

She wept with mingled feelings of joy and pain,—pain of the remembrance of her mother and joy at her present unlooked-for deliverance and the certainty of future happiness.

Saisho told her that there was now no need for her to leave the house. She was not only a richly dowered bride, but now that her face was no longer hidden by the hideous bowl, so beautiful that even a king would be proud to wed her. She need no longer fear to be present at the coming ceremony and feast. So they both turned back, and hastened to prepare for the trial which awaited the Bowl-Wearer, but Bowl-Wearer now no longer.

As soon as day broke, the house was full of movement, servants hurrying to and fro to usher in and wait upon the relations, who now began to arrive. The murmur of their chattering was like the sound of breaking waves on a distant shore, and the object of all this talk was nothing else than the poor little Princess. The servants told every one that she was in her room getting ready for the approaching feast, and they all thought it strange that she had not fled away for shame. Little did they dream of all that had happened to her!

At last the hour of the “Bride Comparing Ceremony” arrived. The family and the relations all took their places at the upper end of the big guest-hall of thirty mats.

First entered the bride of the eldest son. She was only twenty-two years of age, and as it was the season of autumn, she wore a brightly coloured kimono and walked into the room in a stately fashion, with her scarlet hakama trailing over the cream mats behind her. Her costume was indeed beautiful to behold! To her parents-in-law she brought gifts of ten rolls of rich silk and two suits of the ceremonial gown called kosode (each kosode consisting of twelve long kimono folded one over the other), all of which she placed on a fine lacquer tray to present them.

Next came the bride of the second son. She was twenty years of age, and was of the aristocratic type of beauty, thin and slender, with a long pale oval face. She wore a heavy silk robe, and over this a flowing gown of gold brocade. Her hakama was embroidered profusely with crimson plum-blossoms. She came into the room quietly, with a gentle bearing, and offered as her gifts of presentation thirty suits of silk robes to her husband’s parents.

Then came the bride of the third son. She was only eighteen years of age. Quite different from the first two proud beauties, she was very pretty and dainty, and though small had more sweetness and charm in her manner than her sisters. Her dress was of rich silk embroidered with cherry-blossoms. She presented thirty pieces of rare and handsome crape to her parents-in-law.

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The three sat side by side in their conscious pride and prosperity, their beauty enhanced by the sheen and splendour of their silken gowns. As the father and mother, uncles and aunts and relations, all gazed upon them, no one could say who deserved the palm of superiority, for they were all lovely.

At the lower end of the room, far away from every one else, was placed a torn mat. It was the seat destined for the Bowl-Wearer.

“We have seen the three elder brides of the house, and they are all so handsome and so beautifully robed that we are sure there are no women to compare with them in the whole province,” said the relations. “Now it is the turn of the Bowl-Wearer, who aspires to marry the youngest son of the house. When she comes in with that ridiculous bowl on her head, let us greet her with a burst of laughter!”

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The roomful of people eagerly waited for the Bowl-Wearer to come, even as the birds sitting on the eaves of a house long for the morning. The three brides were also curious to see the cripple girl of whom they had heard so much. How dared such a creature aspire to become their sister? they haughtily asked each other.

But the mother felt differently. She in no wise wished to see the girl appear, for she had arranged this day’s ceremony, hoping that the Bowl-Wearer, knowing herself to be a deformed beggar-maid, would be too ashamed to appear before such a grand company and would flee away rather than face the trial. On asking the servants, however, she was told that she was still in the house, and she wondered what the girl could be doing, and almost regretted what she had done.

Lord Yamakage and his wife at last grew impatient and sent word to the Bowl-Wearer that she was to hasten, as every one was waiting for her.

The servants went to the back of the house where the Bowl-Wearer had her little room of three mats, and gave her the message.

“I am coming now,” she answered from within the paper screens.

The Princess now came out and entered the room of the “Bride Comparing Ceremony,” where every one was waiting for her. She was only sixteen years of age, but so beautiful that she reminded them of the weeping cherry-blossoms in the dew of a spring morning. Her hair was as black as the sheen on a raven’s wing, and her face was lovelier far than that of any human being they had ever seen. Her under-robes were of rich white silk, and her upper kimono was purple, embroidered with white and pink plum-blossoms. As the stars pale before the fuller glory of the moon, so the three elder brides shrank into insignificance beside the dazzling beauty of this maiden.

To all it seemed as if one of the Amatsu Otome (heavenly virgins) who wait upon the Goddess of Mercy had glided into the room. They had expected to see a poverty-stricken girl with a large bowl stuck upside down on the top of her head, and they were lost in astonishment when they beheld the Princess in all the radiance of her loveliness and the splendour of her rich clothes.

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The Princess was about to sit down in the seat left for her, but Lord Yamakage made a place for her beside his wife, saying that he could not allow her to sit in such a lowly spot. She now presented to her father-in-law a silver wine-cup on a gold pedestal, with one hundred rye (old yen in gold), and thirty rolls of silk which she brought in on a beautiful tray. To his wife she presented the rarest and most delectable fruit of ancient Japan, Konan oranges and Kempo pears, and one hundred pieces of coloured cloth which she put upon a gold stand.

In her surpassing beauty, in the grace of her carriage, in the richness of her costume, in the sumptuousness of the gifts to her parents, she left the other brides far and away behind. Speechless with wonder and admiration, every one present could not but gaze at her. Before the Bowl-Wearer had appeared, the three elder brides had seemed beautiful enough, but now the difference was as marked as when a sparkling jewel is placed side by side with a crystal; and as the crystal suffers from the comparison, so did they.

Saisho’s elder brothers were looking between the cracks of the sliding screens, and they were filled with envy at Saisho and his good fortune in becoming the husband of such a beautiful princess, for such they now felt she must be. Not even her rivals could deny that she was bewilderingly fair to look upon; but they whispered among themselves that unless she were skilled in all womanly accomplishments, for all her beauty she would be no better than a common man’s daughter. She must play on the koto at once. No one could perform on that instrument without years of instruction. If they waited till the next day, who knows, she was so clever that she might get Saisho to teach her. So the jealous brides proposed aloud that they should all play a quartette; the eldest would play the biwa (lute), the second the sho (flute), the third the tsuzumi (a kind of a small drum beaten with the hand), and they asked the Bowl-Wearer to join them and play the koto (harp).

The Princess, who was very modest, at first refused; but on second thoughts, she said to herself: “They ask me to do this because they wish to try me, thinking me to be ignorant of such accomplishments. Well, then, I will play, for my mother taught me.” She pulled the koto near her, and slipping the ivory tips on her fingers began to stroke chords. The astonishment of every one was great, for she played with great skill.

Saisho, who had hidden himself in the room behind a lacquer cabinet, and was watching with the utmost eagerness all that went on, could hardly keep in his hiding-place, he was so delighted.

The three brides, who were quite put out of countenance, for their performance could in no wise be compared to that of the little Princess, now proposed that she should write a poem.

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“Write a poem, a tanka [a poem of thirty-one syllables], which shall describe the character of each season, such as the blooming of the peach and the cherry-blossom in the spring, the orange and wistaria in summer, and the beauty of the chrysanthemum in autumn.”

“Oh,” said the Bowl-Wearer, “this is indeed a task too difficult for me. Is there nothing else you will give me to do instead of this? I can take care of the bath-room, and pull up water from the well, and heat the bath. Since this is my daily occupation, how is it possible that I should even know how to write a poem, much less compose one?” She blushed as she spoke.

But her rivals insisted, and so at last she took up a poem card and a brush and wrote:—

Haru wa hana, Natsu wa tachibana, Aki wa kiku, Izure to wakete, Tsuyu ya okuran.

The cherry-blossom of spring, The orange-flower of summer, The autumn chrysanthemum, Perplexed between them all, Alike on each the dew may fall.

She showed not the least hesitation in writing these lines, and her handwriting was so beautiful that even the famous Tofu[1] and her brush could not have surpassed it. The three brides retired from the room, grumbling and speaking evil of the Bowl-Wearer.

“She must be a witch,” they said. “Probably the spirit of the ancient Tamamono Maye!”

Lord Yamakage, now quite pleased with her, handed her a cup of saké. He gave his full consent to her marrying his son Saisho, and bestowed upon them as a settlement twenty-three hundred cho of land, together with twenty-four servants to wait upon them, and for their bridal chamber he allotted them the Hall of Bamboos.

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So Saisho and the Bowl-Wearer were at last married, and all their troubles ended. Never was there such a merry wedding, such a lovely bride, or such a happy bridegroom. The days flew into weeks, the weeks flew into months, for the flight of time is unnoticed when one is happy.

At last one day Saisho said to his wife: “I cannot believe you to be the daughter of a common man. Will you not tell me who your father is? I should like to know. Whatever wrong you have suffered, why hide your parentage any longer?” The Princess knew that if she told her husband the truth, the name of her cruel stepmother would have to be mentioned, and it would be most unfilial to speak of the woman’s cruelty, for she was her father’s wife, so she decided not to tell Saisho to what family she belonged. She made some excuse, saying that he should know all in good time, and begged him to wait a little longer.


When they had been happily married for a year, she gave birth to a son. The bliss of the faithful young couple now seemed complete. Yet with her ever-growing happiness her thoughts turned more and more to her father. What had happened to him in these past years? How she longed to show him her little son! She said to herself that if this were granted she would be the happiest woman in the whole world.

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Now let us turn back and see what happened to Lord Minetaka and his wicked wife. As time went on, her vicious disposition only became worse. At last it became so unbearable that all the servants took their leave. There was now no one left to care for her child or the house, and the fortunes of the family gradually declined. Lord Minetaka became poorer and poorer. Where once in the days of the first wife there had been sweet peace and harmony, discord now reigned in the house.

Lord Minetaka grew weary of his life. He decided to leave his home and set out on a pilgrimage. He started at last to wander on foot from province to province and from temple to temple, learning from the priests all he could of Buddhist lore. He had plenty of time for reflection; and no longer harassed by a scolding wife, he began to ponder over his past life. No words can tell how much he regretted having listened to her slanderous stories about his little daughter; and when he thought of how he had allowed her to be driven from her home, like an outcast or a beggar, his nights were sleepless.

He asked himself every day what could have happened to her all this time. He would search for her through the length and the breadth of the land, and if she were still alive, he told himself that he would surely meet with her again. In every temple he came to he prayed that he might find her, wheresoever she might be. On and on he wandered over the country, stopping for the night at the different villages he came to on his way.

At last he reached the famous Kwannon of the Hatsuse Temple, of the Yamato Province. Kwannon, the Goddess of Mercy, grants to mortals whatever they need the most, the greatest desire of their hearts. Here Minetaka ardently prayed for his lost daughter, prayed that she might be preserved from all ill, and that Kwannon would mercifully grant them a speedy meeting.

Saisho and his wife were devoted to this very temple, and often used to visit it to offer thanksgiving for their mutual happiness, and to pray for their children. Now this day, as was their wont, they had come with their three little sons and some of their retainers. The little boys were beautifully dressed in silk and crape, and the whole party had the appearance of a nobleman and his retinue.

The retainers went up the temple steps first to clear the way, and found a pilgrim before the temple shrine lost in earnest prayer.

“Oh, pilgrim!” they cried, “out of the way! Our lord comes to worship, make way instantly!”

The man, hearing himself spoken to in this way, got up and looked at the approaching party, moving aside at the same time to let them pass. He was travel-stained and worn out with fatigue, and it was easy to see that he was broken down by some sorrow. As the little boys passed him, he looked at them eagerly, and as he did so the tears fell from his eyes. One of the retainers, who thought his behaviour strange, asked the pilgrim why he wept.

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“Those children,” answered Lord Minetaka, for it was he, “remind me so much of my daughter, for whom I am searching, that when I looked at their faces the tears fell in spite of myself;” and he told the man all that had happened, glad for once to find a sympathetic listener on his lonely wanderings.

When the Princess heard the story, she told the retainers to bring the pilgrim to her. As soon as they led him to her a glance was enough for her to recognize that, aged and emaciated as he was, the pilgrim was none other than her father.

“I am the Bowl-Wearer!” she exclaimed quickly, catching hold of her father’s sleeve and bursting into tears, overcome with joy and filial affection at this unexpected meeting.

Saisho congratulated his wife and her father on their happy reunion, and after many bows and salutations on both sides, he said: “I felt sure that my wife was of noble birth, though she always remained silent when I questioned her as to her parentage. Now I understand it all. So, after all, she is the daughter of Lord Minetaka of Katano.”

He then insisted that his father-in-law should give up his wanderings and make his home with them for the rest of his days.

So Lord Minetaka at last found his good daughter married to one of his own rank, and so happy that even in dreams he could have wished for nothing better for her. What a joyous home-coming it was that day for the Bowl-Wearer, as she led her father back with her and presented her three little sons to him, and showed him her beautiful home, and told him how good and faithful her husband had been to her while she was only the unhappy and despised Bowl-Wearer! They all felt that their cup of happiness was full, and lived together more harmoniously than ever, and in their mutual joy all past sorrow was forgotten.

Such is the story of the Bowl-Wearing Princess, which is told from grandmother to mother and from mother to daughter in all households in Japan.

[1] Tofu. A lady famous for her beautiful handwriting.

The Princess of the Bowl – Warriors of Old Japan and Other Stories

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