Shiro the magical dog

A Japanese folktale retold

A long time ago, there lived a kind-hearted farmer on one of Japan’s beautiful islands. His neighbour though, was a cruel and greedy man. One day, the cruel farmer chased away a little white puppy that had come into his farm land.

“Go away, you pest! I have nothing to give you,” he shouted in anger, pelting it with stones. The dog yelped in pain and ran across into the neighbouring farm. The kind-hearted farmer who lived there took the poor little puppy in, gave it food and shelter and named him Shiro, which in Japanese means white. Shiro lived happily with the farmer. In time, Shiro grew to be a big dog that helped the farmer with his work.

One day, the farmer and Shiro went to the mountain side to cut wood. Suddenly, the dog stopped at a spot on the slopes and barked loudly.

“Woof, woof! Dig here, dig here,” he said to his master. The farmer did as he was told. To his amazement, he found a bag of gold coins. When the greedy neighbour heard about this, he dragged Shiro by the collar and took him to the mountain slopes.

“Darn dog, tell me where to dig?”

The dog whined and pointed to a spot, and the man dug the ground eagerly. To his horror, bags of garbage came out. In anger, he killed Shiro with his hoe and went home leaving the dead dog behind.

When Shiro did not return home, his master went looking for him. Horrified, he found his dog dead. With love and care, he buried it in his garden and planted a tree sapling on the grave. The next morning, as if by magic, there stood a really big tree on the grave of Shiro. The farmer could not believe his eyes. He decided to offer him some rice cakes which the dog had loved very much. He cut a branch of the tree and made it into a mortar. He put the rice in the mortar and when he pounded it, it turned to gold. Sure enough, the greedy neighbour rushed over to cut a branch of the tree, when he heard the amazing fortunes of the farmer. He too made a mortar and when he tried to pound rice, it turned into mud. In rage, he chopped down the tree of his neighbour and burnt it.

Shiro’s master was broken-hearted at the loss of his beautiful tree. He collected the ashes of the burnt-down tree and sprinkled it in his garden. Behold! A wonderful thing happened! All the cherry blossom trees were filled with fragrant white flowers. His fruit trees were all laden with ripe fruits. When the king of the land heard about all the wonderful things that had happened to the good farmer, he ordered his soldiers to bring him to his court.

“Good man, I have a beautiful garden but the trees there do not bloom. If you make them bloom, then I shall reward you with whatever you wish.”

The good farmer sprinkled the ash of the tree in the king’s garden and sure enough the trees there bloomed with large white flowers. Overjoyed, the king rewarded the farmer well and sent him back to his village. The greedy neighbour, as one would have expected, too went to the king with the claim that he too could make his garden lush and beautiful. But when he threw his ash, it flew into the king’s eyes and nose that made him extremely angry. He sent the wicked man to jail for life.

The good farmer continued to lead a simple life. He worked hard on his land and helped the needy who came to him. And the legacy of Shiro lived on with him.

Published as part of a series titled ‘Folktales of the World (Retold) ’ in Deccan Herald, Student Edition, dt. August 3, 2013

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