NAGANO '98 Kids' Info Center



Monogusa Taro

Long, long ago, in what is now Nagano, there lived a lazy man called Monogusa (do-nothing) Taro. He lived in a hut without walls, as they would be too much trouble to build, and he spent his days and nights looking idly at the sky, composing poems and waiting for a kind-hearted person to bring him a bite to eat.

One day a farmer brought Monogusa Taro five pieces of rice-cake. He ate four of them at once, but the fifth cake dropped and rolled out onto the road. Taro was too lazy to go get it himself. He lay there, shooing away the dogs and birds that came to nibble the cake, waiting for someone to pass by and pick up the last cake for him. At last, some days later, the governor of the district himself came riding by.

Taro cried out to the nobleman: "Sir, I beg you. Please bring me that rice-cake in the road!" The governor stopped, amazed that this lazy beggar dared call out to him in this way.

"So you are the famous Monogusa Taro. How is it that you make your living?" questioned the governor.

Taro answered him honestly: "Well, I wait here in my hut for someone to bring me some food."

"Would you like to become a farmer and grow your own food? I will give you some land," offered the governor.

"No, thank you. I don't care to be a farmer."

"How about a shop of some sort? I will give you a store and the goods to sell."

"No," replied Taro, "I don't fancy that sort of work either."

The governor was most intrigued by Monogusa Taro. Here was a lowly, lazy beggar, speaking boldly to the ruler of the entire district. The governor saw something noble in Taro's clear eyes. He made a decree: "From this day forth, let Monogusa Taro be fed rice and sake every day. Those who disobey me in this wish will earn my displeasure." This order amazed the local farmers, but the governor's wish was law, and they brought Taro his rice and sake every day from that day on. He lived his life as usual, gazing idly at the sky and composing his poems.

Some years went by, and the time came for the lord of Shinano to go to the capital, Kyoto. Each village had to send one man as a servant to the lord during his journey. The farmers, busy with their fieldwork, asked Taro to go.

"Taro, will you go to the capital? Our village must send a man, and we are too busy with our work." But Taro, of course, wanted nothing more than to lie in his hut and compose his poems.

The farmers thought hard about how they could convince him to go. At last, one of them spoke: "You know, Taro, the capital is filled with beautiful women. Wouldn't you like to go and see them?" At this, Taro sat up to listen.

"In the capital," the farmer continued, "everyone writes poem after poem. A skilled poet is respected and honored, especially by the women there." Taro was on his feet now at what he was hearing.

"But I guess you had better stay here in your hut after all. You are much too lazy to go all the way to Kyoto, no matter how beautiful the women are and how much they would love to hear your poetry." But by this time, Taro had made up his mind to accompany the lord of Shinano to the capital.

As it turned out, Kyoto was everything the farmers had said it would be. The streets were filled with beautiful women and the sounds of poetry. Taro felt as though he had awoken from his old, lazy life into a new one, and he applied himself diligently to his duties. The lord of Shinano was most pleased with his hard work and his fine poems.

But the lord's stay in Kyoto drew to a close, and Taro had yet to meet a woman who would become his wife. Troubled by this, he asked his lord what to do. The lord laughed and told him: "Go to Kiyomizu temple. There are plenty of fine women who visit that temple, and you are sure to meet one right for you."

Off Taro went to the temple. He stood before the gates from dawn to dusk, but his rugged country face and rough clothes frightened people away from him. At last, as dusk approached, he made his way up to one woman coming late to the temple. As you can imagine, she almost fainted with fright when he grabbed her and asked her to be his wife!

She regained her senses, however, and decided to get rid of this beggar with a poem: "If you really care for me, ask your way to my home, with a gate covered in purple orange blossoms." Her elegant poem startled Taro, and he let her go. But he understood poetry better than she expected, and the next day he began his search for her home.

After seven days of searching, he found a house that matched her poetic description. How great was her surprise when she saw Taro standing in her garden! She said to herself: "It seems he knows more of poetry than I believed he could. And he has shown such devotion in searching for me!" And she, too, noticed the clear nobility in his eyes. She invited him in, bathed him and clothed him in fine robes, and found him to be the most handsome man she had ever seen. They were married, and Taro began to accompany her to court.

The imperial court was a place of great poetry. One day, the emperor asked Taro to compose a verse. Taro, hearing a warbler singing in a garden tree, spoke: "Hearing the warbler's liquid song, I wonder if her roof of blossom has holes to let the spring rain come through to wet her feathers." This fine poem pleased the emperor, who decided to look into Taro's lineage. The lord of Shinano investigated and found that Taro was, in fact, the lost child of a nobleman, and indeed was related to the emperor himself.

At this news, the emperor raised Taro to a high rank in the court and gave him the provinces of Shinano and Kai (now Nagano and Yamanashi) as his realm. With his wife, he returned to his home country. Out of gratitude to those who were kind to him when he was a beggar, he promoted the governor of his old district and gave land to all the farmers of his old village. In his new mansion, he lived happily with his wife for the rest of his long life.

Folktales Index