Saru Kani Kassen

18 Oct

Growing up, there were two tales I remember the most from my book of Japanese folk stories. The first was Momotaro and his quest to rescue treasures and women from Oni Island. The second was called “Saru Kani Kassen,” and was about a crab, a monkey, and a series of anthropomorphized inanimate objects.

Once upon a time a crab was happily walking along eating his onigiri (rice ball). His neighbor, a hungry monkey who only had a persimmon seed, didn’t want to wait for it to grow so he asked the crab if he wanted to trade items. The crab thought it was unfair, but the clever monkey told him that once the crab ate the onigiri, it would be gone permanently, but if he planted the seed, he will have persimmon fruit forever. Then the crab agreed and planted the seed in his garden, where he told it to sprout, or he’d dig it up and throw it away. Scared, the tree quickly sprouted. He told it to grow tall and bear fruit or he’d cut it down with his claws, and the persimmon tree quickly obeyed.

But then the crab noticed it couldn’t reach the fruit, so he asked the monkey to get for him. The monkey ran up the tree and began eating the fruit himself. Angrily, the crab yelled at him, to which the monkey threw a persimmon at the crab, cracking its shell and crushing it to death. The crab’s children swore blood vengeance on the monkey and enlisted the aide of a chestnut, bee, cow dung, and mortar. They all went to the monkey’s house while he was away and hid in different places. When the monkey came home, he was warming his hands by the fire when suddenly the chestnut sprang out of the fireplace, burning him. He ran to the water to douse his burns when an army of baby crabs began pinching him. Panicking, he pulled out his hands and placed them in a jar of miso paste instead, to which a bee flew out and began stinging him. The monkey ran out of his house, slipped on the cow dung, and landed on his back. Then the giant stone mortar leapt off the roof and crushed the monkey to death. The end.

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