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Japanese fairy tales


There was once a hunter who shot a great bear, and the beast ran from him and entered a cave.
"I will go after it," the hunter said to himself, "for, since it is wounded, it will be easy to kill it when it is trapped in the cave."
So he went into the cave, but could find no bear. He saw its tracks, and they led down a dark passage which seemed to slope into the earth. He followed this passage a long way, but found no bear. Suddenly he came into an open space and saw before him a beautiful garden. It was filled with wonderful trees such as he had never before seen, and some of them bore strange fruits.
Now as there was no one to forbid, he plucked some berries and found that they were good. But suddenly he was overcome with a strange feeling, and gazing down upon himself, he saw that he was turned into a horrible serpent. Struck with terror, he cried, "What fearful thing has befallen me? I who was a man, ruler over all animals, even the four-footed kings of the forest, am become the lowest of the low, even a loathsome serpent." He hung his head in shame, and crawled back through the cave, and lay down at the foot of a huge pine tree.
Wearied and distressed, at last he fell asleep and dreamed a dream. In his dream a woman appeared to him, who looked kindly upon him and said, "I feel sorrow for you, unhappy youth. I am the spirit of the pine tree, and you may hear me speak when the wind sweeps from Fuji San and whispers through my pines. This thing has happened to you because you ate the fruit of Fengtu,1 of which no man may eat in safety. But you can be saved if you will obey me. Climb to the very topmost branches of this pine and hurl yourself down to earth. So you may return to your true self."
The hunter awoke and, remembering his dream, said, "It would be better to be dashed to pieces than to remain alive and be a loathsome serpent. I will throw myself down from the tree and may the gods help me."
Gliding carefully up to the very topmost branch, he poised for a moment, and then gave a mighty leap. He fell to the ground and for a long time he knew no more.
When he returned to himself, he stood at the foot of the great pine tree beside the crushed body of a huge serpent, and his own form was once more the form of a man. Then was his heart full of a great thanksgiving, and he straightway set up inao beneath the kindly pine tree.