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Japanese fairy tales


Many, many years ago there lived at Atami a holy priest. Of all the poor people of the village, he was the very poorest, for he gave away nearly all that was given to him; and he was often hungry.
Atami was by the sea and the people lived on the sea's bounty. When the winter swept down from Fuji San, and the storm god roared on the waves and frightened the fish away, then all the people hungered. The fathers and mothers hungered greatly, for they gave nearly all there was to the children, who were not, therefore, so much in want. But the priest hungered most of all; for he was the father of his people, and so gave them of his own share of food. Indeed, he gave them more than this; for, under the camphor tree which grew beside his little temple on the hill, he sat and prayed for his people, and the gods heard his prayers.
One day the fish were gone from the shore and the people were very hungry. The priest of Atami sat and prayed, and lo! the camphor tree opened, and there appeared to him a lovely goddess in a mantle of purple. Her face was fair and kind, but her eyes gleamed with displeasure, and she said, "Sit not here and pray for fish, oh foolish one! Even now the fish are upon your shore; behold them!" Then the tree closed and he saw her no more.
The priest was afraid and hastened to the shore; and there he saw a terrible sight and smelled a terrible smell.
The whole beach was covered with fishes. There were big fishes and little fishes, long fishes and fat fishes, and strange fishes that no one had ever seen before. They would have fed the village for many days, but alas! each fish was scalded as by fire and was crumbling into bits.
The good priest wept as if his heart would break, crying aloud, "Alas, my people, my people!"
Then he climbed high upon the hill above the village, and looked over the sea, hoping that he might learn what had caused the fish to die. There he prayed to the gods, "Open my eyes that I may see, and aid my people."
Far out at sea, and under the surface of the water, he beheld a great turmoil. The waters boiled and bubbled as if in torment. And through the waters, the fishes leaped, and lo! they were scalded to death.
The priest called to the watchman, who stood upon the hill to tell the people when good fish came to the shore, "Haste! haste!" he said, "run to the temple and bring me a branch from the holy camphor tree which grows beside it. For thy life, haste!"
The watchman, being young, made great haste. Soon he brought back a bough of the tree. Its leaves were like green jade and it was of more avail than many demons.
Then the priest prayed upon the shore, while he waved his camphor branch in the air, "Oh Kwan-on, Goddess of Mercy," he said, "look upon our distress and have pity upon my people. Give us fish lest we die. And cause the turmoil in the sea to cease."
He threw the sacred bough far from him into the sea. Then there came a mighty rumbling, and the crest of the hill rose into a cone, and through it the waters burst, rising toward heaven in a stream so high that it seemed to reach the clouds.
Soon the people came with speed and made channels in the earth. The hot water flowed into the channels, and all who bathed therein were cured of their ailments; and the place was called the "Spring of Kindness."
Then was the old priest much rejoiced, for the fish came back to his people, and there was food to eat. He dwelt long in the shrine on the hilltop, and his people were grateful to him, and made him many offerings.
And to this day the camphor tree grows, with its small, pointed, green-jade leaves, old, and strong, and fragrant, upon the hill of Atami.