|Japanese fairy tales
THE SINGLE LANTERN OF YAMATO
There was a poor woman in Yamato who was very good. She prayed daily at
the graves of her parents, although she was very old. Daily she placed
there some grains of rice, although she was very, very poor. She went
to the temple whenever she was able, and prayed much. She was kind to
the poor and gave always to the hungry, so that often she went hungry
"It is better to be hungry than to grow hard of heart," she said.
Now they made a grand temple in Yamato and all the people were proud
and gave to it many yen. They gave a lantern of bronze so wonderfully
fine that all men wondered, for the workmanship was delicate and
beautiful. The lantern makers had sat and wrought upon it for days with
matchless skill and patience. The stand was large and the light so
small as to seem but a mere glimmer of the light of the world.
Many lanterns were given to the temple and a rich man gave a thousand large ones.
"All men shall see that I am of a generous heart," he said proudly to himself.
"I have nothing to give," she said. "The gods would accept
nothing that I have." She looked carefully over her poor little house,
but alas! There was nothing any one would buy. She had only the barest
necessaries and these much worn and used for many years.
At last she bethought herself that she still possessed one thing which
she might sell. Her hair was yet long and black. It might not bring
much, but it would be worth something.
"I am too old to marry, no one cares how I look," she said, smiling to herself. "I will sell my hair to make a temple offering."
So she sold it for a small sum, which happily she found was enough to
buy one little temple light. This she joyfully placed upon the shrine.
How tiny it looked beside the rich man's great ones! Yet its light
seemed to her to warm her old heart into fresher life, and she was
That night there was a great festival in the temple. All the lamps were
lighted, from the great ones of the rich man to the tiny one which the
poor woman had placed there with such loving care.
The whole temple was aglow with light, and all the people praised the rich man and said, "How generous he is! How great!"
But just as they were praising him and admiring the lights, there
sprang up a sudden fierce wind. It blew so wild a gust that the light
of all the great lanterns of the rich man went out, and all was
darkness. Yet not all—for lo! there gleamed through the gloom a
tiny light, as bright as the light of day. It was the little light of
the poor woman, which with its spark seemed to light the whole great
temple, and all the people wondered. Then they looked with care to see
whence came the little light and when they found it was the gift of so
humble a soul they marveled again. But the priest of the temple, who
was old and good and very wise, said, "Do not marvel! In the sight of
the All Knowing One, the poor gift of a good heart is more worthy than
all the splendor of the rich and proud."