The crane wife

Japanese Red Crowned CraneA folktale from Japan

This is a popular folktale from Japan about the crane which is a symbol of good fortune and longevity. 

A long time ago, there lived a young farmer on one of Japan’s northern islands. Though he worked long and hard on his land, he was poor. He was a good-hearted and generous man too and hence, the people of his village often helped him at times of adversity. He lived alone for he could not afford to marry and start a family.

On a cool morning, when the young man was ploughing his land, something big and heavy fell from the skies quite close to where he was working. Startled, the man dropped his hoe and went across to see what had come crashing down. To his dismay, he found a big, white crane lying quite still with a hunter’s arrow through its heart. The farmer gently carried the bird to his little cottage. There he removed the arrow and applied medication on the wounds. With the care and love that the man gave the bird, it recovered quickly; when it was fully fit, the farmer set it free. He watched it soar into the blue sky with satisfaction.

A week later, the kind-hearted man was surprised to see a beautiful, young woman standing outside his cottage.

“Hello! Who are you? What can I do for you?” he asked the woman.

“I am new to the village. I have no home, no family. If you marry me, then I could help you on your farm,” replied the attractive stranger. The farmer fell in love with the lovely lady; he married her even though he had very little money to support a family.

One night, after her husband had gone to sleep, his wife went into a small storeroom and locked herself in till early the next morning. When she did emerge from the room, she had an exquisitely woven shawl of finest fibre.

“Dear husband, take this shawl to the market and sell for a good price. It will help you to buy some tools for the farm,” she said and seeing his incredulous expression, she continued, “Do not ask me questions for I cannot answer them!”

The farmer did as he was told and to his joy, he got a lot of money for the beautiful shawl. The wife wove a shawl every night, which the farmer sold for a good price. Soon, he became rich; with proper equipment and good seeds, the farm turned lush and prosperous. The man and his wife were happy. The farmer though could not but be curious about what his wife did in the storeroom and how she wove those wonderful shawls. Hence, one night, he decided to stay awake to get some answers. When his wife left quietly for the room, he followed her. Through a crack in the door, he watched in astonishment, his wife change into a white crane and begin to weave a shawl with fine fibres from her lily-white feathers. “Come in, my dear! I know you are out there watching me,” said the bird in a gentle voice.

“I am the crane that you nursed back to health. I took a human form to repay you for your kindness. Now, that I have, I am afraid I have to leave you. You now have enough money to marry a real woman and start a family!”

With that the crane left the farmer. Without his crane wife, for a long time, the farmer remained lost and unhappy. In time, he did marry a real woman, though he could never ever forget his beautiful crane-wife.

Published as part of a series titled ‘Folktales of the World (Retold) ’ in Deccan Herald, Student Edition, dt. July 13, 2013


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