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THERE was once upon a time a young girl named Japonel, the daughter of a wood-cutter, and of all things that lived by the woodside, she was the most fair.

Her hair in its net was like a snared sunbeam, and her face like a spring over which roses leaned down and birds hung fluttering to drink—such being the in-dwelling presence of her eyes and her laughing lips and her cheeks.

Whenever she crossed the threshold of her home, the birds and the flowers began calling to her, “Look up, Japonel! Look down, Japonel!” for the sight of the sweet face they loved so much. The squirrel called over its bough, “Look up, Japonel!” and the rabbit from between the roots, “Japonel, look down!” And Japonel, as she went, looked up and looked down, and laughed, thinking what a sweet-sounding place the world was.

Her mother, looking at her from day to day, became afraid: she said to the wood-cutter, “Our child is too fair; she will get no good of it.”

But her husband answered, “Good wife, why should it trouble you? What is there in these quiet parts that can harm her? Keep her only from the pond in the wood, lest the pond-witch see her and become envious.”

“Do not go near water, or you may fall in!” said her mother one day as she saw Japonel bending down to look at her face in a rain-puddle by the road.

Japonel laughed softly. “O silly little mother, how can I fall into a puddle that is not large enough for my two feet to stand in?”

But the mother thought to herself, when Japonel grows older and finds the pond in the wood, she will go there to look at her face, unless she has something better to see it in at home. So from the next pedlar who came that way she bought a little mirror and gave it to Japonel, that in it she might see her face with its spring-like beauty, and so have no cause to go near the pond in the wood. The lovely girl, who had never seen a mirror in her life, took the rounded glass in her hand and gazed for a long time without speaking, wondering more and more at her own loveliness. Then she went softly away with it into her own chamber, and wishing to find a name for a thing she loved so much, she called it, “Stream’s eye,” and hung it on the wall beside her bed.

In the days that followed, the door of her chamber would be often shut, and her face seldom seen save of herself alone. And “Look up, Japonel! Look down, Japonel!” was a sound she no longer cared to hear as she went through the woods; for the memory of “Stream’s eye” was like a dream that clung to her, and floated in soft ripples on her face.

She grew tall like an aspen, and more fair, but pale. Her mother said, “Woe is me, for now I have made her vain through showing her her great beauty.” And to Japonel herself she said, “Oh, my beautiful, my bright darling, though I have made thee vain, I pray thee to punish me not. Do not go near the pond in the wood to look in it, or an evil thing will happen to thee.” And Japonel smiled dreamily amid half-thoughts, and kissing her mother, “Dear mother,” she said, “does ‘Stream’s eye’ tell me everything of my beauty, or am I in other eyes still fairer?” Then her mother answered sadly, “Nay, but I trust the open Eye of God finds in thee a better beauty than thy mirror can tell thee of.”

Japonel, when she heard that answer, went away till she came to the pond in the wood. It lay down in a deep hollow, and drank light out of a clear sky, which, through a circle of dark boughs, ever looked down on it. “Perhaps,” she said to herself, “it is here that God will open His Eye and show me how much fairer I am than even ‘Stream’s eye’ can tell me.” But she thought once of her mother’s words, and went by.

Then she turned again, “It is only that my mother fears lest I become vain. What harm can come if I do look once? it will be in my way home.” So she crept nearer and nearer to the pond, saying to herself, “To see myself once as fair as God sees me cannot be wrong. Surely that will not make me more vain.” And when she came through the last trees, and stood near the brink, she saw before her a little old woman, dressed in green, kneeling by the water and looking in.

“There at least,” she said to herself, “is one who looks in without any harm happening to her. I wonder what it is she sees that she stays there so still.” And coming a little nearer, “Good dame,” called Japonel, “what is it you have found there, that you gaze at so hard?” And the old woman, without moving or looking up, answered, “My own face; but a hundred times younger and fairer, as it was in my youth.”

Then thought Japonel, “How should I look now, who am fair and in the full bloom of my youth? It is because my mother fears lest I shall become vain that she warned me.” So she came quickly and knelt down by the old woman and looked in. And even as she caught sight of her face gazing up, pale and tremulous (“Quick, go away!” its lips seemed to be saying), the old woman slid down from the bank and caught hold of her reflection with green, weed-like arms, and drew it away into the pool’s still depths below. Beneath Japonel’s face lay nothing now but blank dark water, and far away in, a faint face gazed back beseeching, and its lips moved with an imprisoned prayer that might not make itself heard. Only three bubbles rose to the surface, and broke into three separate sighs like the shadow of her own name. Then the pond-witch stirred the mud, and all trace of that lost image went out, and Japonel was left alone.

She rose, expecting to see nothing, to be blind; but the woods were there, night shadows were gathering to their tryst under the boughs, and brighter stars had begun blotting the semi-brightness of the sky. All the way home she went feebly, not yet resolved of the evil that had come upon her. She stole quietly to her own little room in the fading light, and took down “Stream’s eye” from the wall. Then she fell forward upon the bed, for all the surface of her glass was grown blank: never could she hope to look upon her own face again.

The next morning she hung her head low, for she feared all her beauty was flown from her, till she heard her father say, “Wife, each day it seems to me our Japonel grows more fair.” And her mother answered, sighing, “She is too fair, I know.”

Then Japonel set out once more for the pond in the wood. As she went the birds and the flowers sang to her, “Look up, Japonel; look down, Japonel!” but Japonel went on, giving them no heed. She came to the water’s side, and leaning over, saw far down in a tangle of green weeds a face that looked back to hers, faint and blurred by the shimmering movement of the water. Then, weeping, she wrung her hands and cried:

“Ah! sweet face of Japonel,
Beauty and grace of Japonel,
Image and eyes of Japonel,
‘Come back!’ sighs Japonel.”


And bubble by bubble a faint answer was returned that broke like a sob on the water’s surface:

“I am the face of Japonel,
The beauty and grace of Japonel;
Here under a spell, Japonel,
I dwell, Japonel.”


All day Japonel cried so, and was so answered. Now and again, green weeds would come skimming to the surface, and seem to listen to her reproach, and then once more sink down to their bed in the pond’s depths, and lie almost still, waving long slimy fingers through the mud.

The next day Japonel came again, and cried as before:

“Ah! sweet face of Japonel,
Beauty and grace of Japonel,
Image and eyes of Japonel,
‘Come back!’ cries Japonel.”


And her shadow in the water made answer:

“I am the face of Japonel,
The beauty and grace of Japonel;
Here under a spell, Japonel,
I dwell, Japonel.”

Now as she sat and sorrowed she noticed that whenever a bird flew over the pond it dropped something out of its mouth into the water, and looking she saw millet-seeds lying everywhere among the weeds of its surface; one by one they were being sucked under by the pond-witch.

Japonel stayed so long by the side of the pond, that on her way home it had fallen quite dark while she was still in the middle of the wood. Then all at once she heard a bird with loud voice cry out of the darkness, “Look up, Japonel!” The cry was so sudden and so strange, coming at that place and that hour, that all through her grief she heard it, and stopped to look up. Again in the darkness she heard the bird cry, “Why do you weep, Japonel?” Japonel said, “Because the pond-witch has carried away my beautiful reflection in the water, so that I can see my own face no more.”

Then the bird said, “Why have you not done as the birds do? She is greedy; so they throw in millet-seeds, and then she does not steal the reflection of their wings when they pass over.” And Japonel answered, “Because I did not know that, therefore I am to-day the most miserable of things living.” Then said the bird, “Come to-morrow, and you shall be the happiest.”

So the next day Japonel went and sat by the pond in the wood, waiting to be made the happiest, as the bird had promised her. All day long great flocks of birds went to and fro, and the pond became covered with seeds. Japonel looked; “Why, they are poppy-seeds!” she cried. (Now poppy-seeds when they are eaten make people sleep.) Just as the sun was setting all the birds began suddenly to cry in chorus, “Look down, Japonel! Japonel, look down!” And there, on the pond’s surface, lay an old woman dressed in green, fast asleep, with all the folds of her dress and the wrinkles of her face full of poppy-seeds.

Then Japonel ran fast to the pond’s edge and looked down. Slowly from the depth rose the pale beautiful reflection of herself, untying itself from the thin green weeds, and drifting towards the bank. It looked up with tremulous greeting, half sadness, half pleasure, seeming so glad after that long separation to return to its sweet mistress. So as it came and settled below her own face in the water, Japonel stooped down over it and kissed it.

Then she sprang back from the brink and ran home, fast, fast in the fading light. And there, when she looked in her mirror, was once more the beautiful face she loved, a little blue and wan from its long imprisonment under water. And so it ever remained, beautiful, but wan, to remind her of the sorrow that had come upon her when, loving this too well, she had not loved enough to listen to the cry of the birds: “Look up, Japonel!” and, “Japonel, look down!”


An excerpt from : Moonshine and Clover

ISBN: 9781909302259


Moonshine and Clover

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This week we have two poems from the Hyaku-nin-isshiu, or ‘Single Verses by a Hundred People’, were collected together in A.D. 1235. They are placed in approximate chronological order, and range from about the year 670. Perhaps what strikes one most in connection with the Hyaku-nin-isshiu is the date when the verses were written; most of them were produced before the time of the Norman Conquest (of Britain – AD 1066), and one cannot but be struck with the advanced state of art and culture in Japan at a time when Europe was still in a very elementary stage of civilization.

The Collection consists almost entirely of love-poems and what the editor calls picture-poems, intended to bring before the mind’s eye some well-known scene in nature; and it is marvellous what effect little thumbnail sketches are compressed within thirty-one syllables. Some show the cherry blossoms which are doomed to fall, the dewdrops scattered by the wind, the mournful cry of the wild deer on the mountains, the dying crimson of the fallen maple leaves, the weird sadness of the cuckoo singing in the moonlight, and the loneliness of the recluse in the mountain wilds; while those verses which appear to be of a more cheerful type are rather of the nature of the ‘Japanese smile’, described by Lafcadio Hearn as a mask to hide the real feelings.

From: A Hundred Verses from Old Japan

ISBN: 978-1-907256-19-6


Poem 6




  Kasasagi no
Wataseru hashi ni
Oku shimo no
Shiroki wo mireba
Yo zo fuke ni keru.

WHEN on the Magpies’ Bridge I see
The Hoar-frost King has cast
His sparkling mantle, well I know
The night is nearly past,
Daylight approaches fast.


The author of this verse was Governor of the Province of Kōshū, and Viceroy of the more or less uncivilized northern and eastern parts of Japan; he died A.D. 785. There was a bridge or passageway in the Imperial Palace at Kyōto called the Magpies’ Bridge, but there is also an allusion here to the old legend about the Weaver and Herdsman. It is said, that the Weaver (the star Vega) was a maiden, who dwelt on one side of the River of the Milky Way, and who was employed in making clothes for the Gods. But one day the Sun took pity upon her, and gave her in marriage to the Herdboy (the star Aquila), who lived on the other side of the river. But as the result of this was that the supply of clothes fell short, she was only permitted to visit her husband once a year, viz. on the seventh night of the seventh month; and on this night, it is said, the magpies in a dense flock form a bridge for her across the river. The hoar frost forms just before day breaks. The illustration shows the Herdboy crossing on the Bridge of Magpies to his bride.

From: A Hundred Verses from Old Japan

ISBN: 978-1-907256-19-6


 Poem 9




  Hana no iro wa
Utsuri ni keri na
Itazura ni
Waga mi yo ni furu
Nagame seshi ma ni.

THE blossom’s tint is washed away
By heavy showers of rain;
My charms, which once I prized so much,
Are also on the wane,
Both bloomed, alas! in vain.


The writer was a famous poetess, who lived A.D. 834-880. She is remembered for her talent, her beauty, her pride, her love of luxury, her frailty, and her miserable old age. The magic of her art is said to have overcome a severe drought, from which the country suffered in the year 866, when prayers to the Gods had proved useless.

The first and last couplets may mean either ‘the blossom’s tint fades away under the continued downpour of rain in the world’, or ‘the beauty of this flower (i.e. herself) is fading away as I grow older and older in this life’; while the third line dividing the two couplets means, that the flower’s tint and her own beauty are alike only vanity. This verse, with its double meaning running throughout, is an excellent example of the characteristic Japanese play upon words.

From: A Hundred Verses from Old Japan

ISBN: 978-1-907256-19-6


Cover A Hundred Verses from Old Japan

THE mid-autumn moon was shining on the high pagoda that stood outside the Red Bird Gate, the southern entrance to Chin-ling,1 China. Wing Ling (Peaceful Forest), a wide-awake boy, had just this

moment remarked that he hoped the moon would shine bright enough to drop down money for heaps of moon-cakes. He and his brother, Li Sun (Pear-tree, Son-of-Li), were sitting on the lowest of the four wide steps leading to the broad, octagonal base of the Porcelain Pagoda. “Liu li t’a” was its real name, that is, Vitreous-substance-of-liquid-gems-pagoda. Early in the fifteenth century, the emperor, Yung-lo (Eternal Joy), had the pagoda erected as a token of gratitude to his mother, the Heart-of-kindness-showing, Ever-gracious Em-press. The people of Chin-ling sometimes called it “The Temple of Gratitude,” but to Wing Ling and Li Sun it was always the Porcelain Pagoda, because of the coloured slabs of glazed porcelain–green, yellow, and red–which covered the brick-work.
Wing Ling and his brother had often seen the pagoda in the daytime when it looked gay and airy, especially when glittering sunshine fell upon the painted balconies, the delicately carved balustrades and porcelain slabs. Only once a year, were the boys allowed to see it at night–the night of the moon-festival. When the mid-autumn moon was biggest and roundest, a festival, all the moon’s own, was celebrated by everyone, and, on this night of nights, Chinese children had the fun of eating delectable moon-cakes if the moon showered down money enough to buy the cakes. Li Sun said now that he noticed the moon was shining brighter than usual and probably the brightness would make a bigger moon-shower! The two boys, seated on the pagoda step, were easily unobserved, for men, women, and children in holiday dress were coming and going in such throngs that no one paid any attention to them. The moon–the splendid, round moon with the rabbit at its lower edge–was the only important thing tonight.
Moonlight and lantern light were vying with each other in illuminating the Porcelain Pagoda. By moonlight, the slender, octagonal building, mounting story by story far toward the sky, looked mysterious, fantastic, unreal. As if moonlight were not enough, a hundred and forty lights were gleaming from top to bottom of the pagoda. The seventy-two windows, eight in each story, were now ablaze with lantern light. As if gayety and mystery and lights were not enough, two hundred little bells, some of brass, some of porcelain, were softly tinkling in the slight breeze. For, from the golden ball and pine-apple that crowned the metal spire, chains of bells hung down to the angles of the highest roof, and more bells hung from all the corners and edges of the nine roofs. Tonight, the melody of the bells was like the melody the Great River–the Yangtze River–makes at its source where it flows, in rippling beauty, over golden sands.
“Li Sun,” abruptly said Wing Ling, “do you know this Porcelain Pagoda never throws any shadow toward the west?
The priests say so, and they must know, because they have charge of the pagoda and they protect all the images of the idols and saints–two thousand of them–here in the pagoda. And the priests know all about . . .”
“I know it’s time for the moon-cakes to be eaten,” interrupted Li Sun.
“I’ll tell the moon-tale first,” said Wing Ling, “or perhaps there’ll not be any moon-cakes.” Yet, as he spoke, the rascal knew that luscious moon-cakes were, this minute, in the large, inner pocket of his sleeveless jacket, and in Li Sun’s pocket, too. Moon-cakes with glistening, round, sticky places on them! Moon-cakes that had on them little, sugar rabbits! Moon-cakes that had a bulging sugar toad! No wonder Li Sun thought it time to eat the moon-cakes! No wonder Wing Ling felt happy at the mere thought of them!
“Tell the tale, then,” said Li Sun, cheerfully laying aside his great hunger, because he knew that his older brother who liked so much to talk wouldn’t eat till the story was told.
“Here it is,” began Wing Ling, as he and Li Sun wriggled themselves back into the corner of the step to be out of the way of people’s feet. “Once the Emperor, Ming Wong, was walking in the moonlight–moonlight just like this; and he was on a terrace . . . “
“The Feng Huang terrace? Where the three phoenix birds sang, one springtime, so wonderfully all the other birds came to listen?” asked Li Sun eagerly.
“I forget. Perhaps it was that terrace–perhaps another. He was walking up and down, and his courtiers were with him . . .”
“How many courtiers?” broke in Li Sun.
“Interrupt me not, O Small-Devil,” said Wing Ling, “or I stop telling the tale. The Emperor, with his flute in his hand, was walking up and down, when he asked one of his courtiers this question, ‘Of what is the moon made, Noble-Servant?’
“The courtier said to the courtier standing nearest him, ‘His Highness, the Emperor, asks of what the moon is made.’
“The second courtier quickly turned to another courtier, saying, ‘His Highness, the Emperor, asks of what the moon is made.’ The third courtier asked a fourth courtier; the fourth asked a fifth; the fifth, a sixth; the sixth, a seventh; and the seventh courtier ran as fast as the men ran who were sent by the Great Ch’in to find the dragon. I tell you, Li Sun, they ran fast! The seventh courtier ran, like the red fire, to catch up with a magician walking toward the city wall, and he did catch up with him, and seized the magician’s garment. Out of breath he was, after that run, but he panted these words, ‘The Emperor, His Royal Highness . . . would know . . . of what . . . the moon is made.’ Without a word, the magician turned at once and ran back all the way to the terrace where the Emperor was still walking, still looking at the moon. Prostrating himself on the ground before the Emperor’s feet, the magician said, ‘Would His Highness, the Emperor, like to visit the moon and see of what it is made?’
‘Let it be so!’ replied the Emperor.
“The magician instantly threw his staff into the air toward the moon, and, lo, a rainbow bridge from earth to moon! As soon as the Emperor and the magician had stepped upon the bridge it rose beyond reach of the astonished courtiers and became like a wisp of cloud.
“The Emperor and his guide walked as easily as anything right along the rainbow bridge toward the moon, and I tell you, Li Sun, the moon shone amazingly bright, the nearer they went. When they stepped from the bridge to the surface of the moon, the Emperor noticed that most of the golden shining came from the thick groves of cassia trees–yes, Li Sun, the moonlight came straight from the cassia trees which were in full flowering. At the foot of a tall cassia, near the end of the bridge, crouched a little, white jade hare.
‘Who is he?’ asked the Emperor.
‘That is He-who-pounds-drugs-for-the-Genii,’ answered the magician. ‘He uses the cinnamon bark for the drugs. On clear nights in mid-autumn you can see him from the earth.’
“The Emperor and the magician then walked along the broad avenues of the pale yellow cassia trees and saw, on either side, radiant palaces, sparkling towers and twinkling streams. Fair ladies, in rainbow-coloured robes, came out to meet them, and, after bowing and smiling and saying welcoming words, passed on their way. Strange flowers, that looked far away though they were near at hand, covered the fields with silver-white or golden bloom. Snowy-white birds, with eyes like stars, flew in and out the golden cassia branches. Ah, it was a great glory, there, on the moon, Li Sun! And it’s the same moon that shines down here tonight on this pagoda. But there’s more to the story.”
“Tell it,” said Li Sun, sleepily.”The magician said to the Emperor,” went on Wing Ling, ‘Do you see that frog?’

‘Yes,’ said the Emperor.
“Then the magician told him this story: Once the Pearl-of-Heaven, the Moon, was about to be swallowed by a dragon, when an Archer Lord shot arrows into the sky, and so saved the moon from destruction. The Archer Lord was rewarded by a gift of a pill which would make him live forever. But, afterwards, his wife stole the magic pill and fled to the moon. That didn’t help her any, for, as soon as she stepped upon the – grass of the moon, she was turned into a frog. Here in the moon she still lives. Are you awake, Li Sun?” suddenly asked Wing Ling.
“By the Moon-Toad, Heng-O, I am! Go on!” answered Li Sun, briskly.
“Hear now the ending,” said Wing Ling. “When the Emperor and the magician left the moon and were coming down the rainbow bridge, the Emperor spoke not a single word, but he played on his flute. As he played, lovely strains fell to earth. Then he took coins, from the pouch on his girdle, and threw them from the bridge, and the money dropped at the feet of children. Wasn’t that fine, Li Sun?–Don’t you wish . . .?”
But just then a man and a woman, dressed in brightest of embroidered silk robes, bent over the two boys, who jumped to their feet as the man’s words carne like a swift stream pelting down a steep mountainside.
“O wicked boy, Wing Ling!” exclaimed the man. “O abominable urchin, Li Sun! Why, oh, why, have you been hiding from your honourable parents all this long time? What have you been doing? Where have you been? We have walked hour after hour searching for you. We have called on metal, wood, water, fire, earth. We have earnestly petitioned them all to direct us to the greatly-desired-place-of-hiding of our disobedient and much-to-be-despised sons. We have begged them, implored them, to lead us to that hiding-place wherever it might be–whether on the bank of the Great River or in some spot in our pride-of-the-heart city of Chin-ling, our wide city that lies between the dragon’s paws. ’Tis well I propitiated the deities by my worthy contribution toward the expense of the wonder-of-darkness lights on this pagoda. For, as the streams of light, from the cassia branches in the moon, fell upon this lantern-lighted pagoda–this Vitreous-substance-of-liquid-gems-pagoda–and as we saw the pagoda lights that illumine the thirty-three heavens, that detect the good and evil among men, that ward off human miseries, we quickened our steps hither, and lo, in this Temple-of-Gratitude pagoda, here we find you! We find you at last–our always-cherished, always-beloved sons!”
The father paused, breathless; and the mother said to the boys quietly, “Sons, have you eaten your moon-cakes yet?”
Late in the evening, the moon still shone down upon the city of Chin-ling. The light from the waving branches of the cassia trees in the moon streamed upon the Porcelain Pagoda, while the bells of the tower tinkled in the breeze from the Heaven-High Mountains. The moonlight shone, also, on the silent avenue, bordered with statues, outside the T’ai’ping Gate. It shone on the wall that meandered for miles around Chin-ling, and on the throngs of people strolling homeward through the Red Bird Gate; and it shone on the home of Wing Ling (Peaceful Forest) and Li Sun (Pear-tree, Son of Li).
As the boys were going to bed, the little jade hare looked down at the glistening earth. Li Sun, looking up at the moon, said to his brother, “Wing Ling, I can see the white-jade hare tonight–I see him pounding the moon-drugs!”
1 Now Nanking or Nanjing, Jiangsu, China – 298km WNW of ShanghaiURL: