February 24, 2022

#08-192: The Tongue-Cut Sparrow

Sparrow and scissors by Hokusai

Note: This Japanese folktale was collected by the great Irish-Greek writer Lafcadio Hearn, among others.

Get Ready: The best stories often contain a moral which dramatically contrasts the rewards of kindness and the punishment of selfishness. Can you think of some examples?

Once upon a time a cranky old woman put some starch in a basin for some clothes. There was a little sparrow nearby, one whom the old lady's neighbor fed every morning. On this particular day, this bird swooped down and ate the starch!

The mean old woman caught the sparrow in her hand and cut his tongue before letting him go. He flew away from there, not to be seen.

The neighbor woman, of course, was upset when she learned what had happened. So she and her husband set out to find where the sparrow had gone. They traveled over mountains and plains to find where he had gone, calling out as they traveled, "Where does the tongue-cut sparrow live? Where does the tongue-cut sparrow live?"

At last, they found his home. When the sparrow saw that his old friends had come, he was very happy. He brought them into his house and thanked them for their former kindness. He laid out drink and food for them, saké and fish, and made his wife and children and grandchildren all serve the table. At last, after he finished drinking, he danced a little step called the "sparrow's dance." And so they spent the day.

As it began to grow dark, the old couple got ready to leave. The sparrow brought out two wicker baskets and said, "Which one would you like to take: the heavy one, or the light one?"

The old people, not wishing to take too much, replied, "We are old and feeble, so give us the light one. It will be easier to carry."

The sparrow gave them the light basket and they returned home. Then they said, "Let's open it and see what's inside." When they opened the basket and looked inside, they found gold and silver and jewels and rolls of silk. The more they took out the more they found inside! The supply was inexhaustible. They at once became prosperous.

When the mean old woman who had cut the sparrow's tongue saw this, she was jealous, and asked her neighbor where the sparrow lived, and how to get there. Once she knew, she set out on her search.

When she arrived, without providing her any hospitality, the sparrow brought out two wicker baskets and asked as before, "Which one would you like to take: the heavy one, or the light one?"

Thinking the heavier one must have more treasure, she replied, " Let me have the heavy one." She started home with it on her back, the sparrows laughing at her. It was heavy and hard to carry; but at last she got back with it to her house.

When she took off the lid and looked inside, a whole troop of frightful devils came bouncing out and at once tore the old woman to pieces.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shita-kiri_Suzume

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. basin
  2. cranky
  3. feeble
  4. hospitality
  5. inexhaustible
  6. prosperous
  7. sparrow
  8. starch
  9. swooped
  10. wicker

  1. the friendly treatment of guests
  2. bottomless; without end
  3. made of strong, woven twigs
  4. swept through the air
  5. bad-tempered
  6. a large bowl
  7. a commonly-seen little brown bird
  8. a material used to make clothes stiff
  9. weak
  10. financially successful

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 24, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. e; 3. i; 4. a; 5. b; 6. j; 7. g; 8. h; 9. d; 10. c