Yamanba and the Cattleman (牛方と山姥)

Mostly translated from 牛方と山姥

A cattleman named Kansuke packed many salted mackerel on his cow’s back and went out to sell them in the large village on the other side of the mountain. After passing the summit Kansuke met an old woman.

She said,”Kansuke, give me a salted mackerel.”

Kansuke was unnerved that she knew his name, but decided to reach into his pack and give her a fish. The old woman held the fish happily. Her teeth protruded from her mouth and she made a kaburi kaburi sound as she ate the fish piece by piece from head to tail.

She licked her mouth sloppily and said, “Kansuke, give me another salted mackerel.”

Kansuke had realized the old woman was Yamanba. He pulled out another fish, threw it in front of her, and ran away.

Yamanba ate the fish he threw in one bite, and began to chase him screaming, “Kansuke! Give me another salted mackerel!”

Kansuke threw fish after fish as he ran, but Yamanba continued to chase him and eat the fish. Eventually, Kansuke was out of fish.

Yamanba yelled, “Kansuke! Let me eat that cow! If you don’t let me eat your cow, I’ll eat you!” Kansuke was afraid and ran away leaving his cow behind. From behind him came the sounds of his cow crying in terror and the crunch of bones.

He thought, if I go on like this, I’ll be eaten!

He ran until he thought he would die. From behind came the terrible voice, “Kansuke! Wait!”

Kansuke ran and ran until he came to the edge of a large pond.

Yamanba’s voice was closing in behind him fast. Kansuke hurriedly climbed a tree and hid. Yamanba ran without tiring and she came to the edge of the pond and sniffed the air as she searched for Kansuke.

There were no leaves in the tree Kansuke was hiding in and his image was reflected perfectly in the water. Yamanba slowly turned and saw his image in the pond’s surface.

Kansuke thought, “Oh no! This is it.”

“Hee hee hee hee, so you’ve been hiding there Kansuke. Now I’m going to eat you,” said Yamanba and she began to run.

“Oh no! I’ll be eaten by Yamanba!” Kansuke thought to himself. But, Yamanba ran and jumped into the pond.

“Kansuke! Where have you gone? Kansuke!” she screamed as she searched wildly for him in the pond. Kansuke lowered himself down from the tree and began to run again.

When he had come further down the mountain, he spotted a solitary house.

“Ah, now I’m saved. I won’t be eaten” he thought as he knocked on the door. But there was no response from within. Kansuke silently entered the house and hid in the corner of the kitchen.

At that moment, the owner of the house returned. Kansuke was relieved. But, unfortunately, it was Yamanba. It was Yamanba’s home. Kansuke hurriedly climbed to the rafters and hid.

When Yamanba was inside she began to light a fire in the fireplace and muttered, “I thought I could eat that cattleman, but he got away.”

She placed mochi on the wire rack and began to grill it. Kansuke nervously wondered when she would notice him, but Yamanba slowly fell asleep. The delicious smell of the roasting mochi wafted up to the rafters. Kansuke took a single reed from the thatched roof and used it to pierce the mochi and bring it to his mouth. He ate all the mochi.

When Yamanba awoke and found her mochi gone, she yelled furiously, “Who has eaten my mochi?”

Kansuke imitated a rat and said, “God of fire, God of fire.”

Yamanba thought there was nothing to be done if the God of fire had eaten her mochi, so she brought a pot and began to heat some sweet sake. Once again she fell asleep.

Using the reed as a straw this time, Kansuke drank all the sweet sake from his place in the rafters. When Yamanba awoke and found her sweet sake gone, she yelled angrily, “Who has drunk my sweet sake?”

Kansuke once again imitated a rat and said, “God of fire, God of fire.”

Yamanba was annoyed but could do nothing, so she grumbled that all that could be done on such a day was go to bed early.

“Shall I sleep in the box made of rock? or the box made of wood? The box made of rock is cold, so I’ll sleep in the box made of wood.” So saying, she climbed into the box and shut the lid. She began to snore loudly.

Kansuke climbed down from the rafters and placed a millstone and other heavy objects on the lid so Yamanba could not open it. He began to boil a great pot of water over the fire. He brought a saw and cut a hole in the lid of the wooden box.

Yamanba woke up from the sawing sound, but said, “Ah, it’s just a bug,” and went back to sleep. Kansuke poured the boiling water in the hole. He could hear screams from inside the box. Yamanba begged him saying she would return the fish and his cow.

But Kansuke continued to pour the water without hesitation. Once the box was full, the water began to spill out and he couldn’t hear anything form inside it.

Kansuke collapsed.

“She ate all my fish and she ate my cow. What will become of me?” He looked around in despair. Since everything had gone silent, he lifted the lid of the box to find Yamanba’s corpse had become silk, gold coins, and many other treasures.

“With this I can buy another cow!” (odd, but that seems to be his only investment choice.)

Kansuke took the treasure with him and left the mountain.

The End.


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