He sends you this boy as a treasure in return”. The old man looked at the boy. He thought he was very ugly and dirty, and he had snot running down out of his nose. “Disgusting!” thought the old man “How can he be a treasure?) The lady continued. “His name is Little Snot Nose - Hana-tare Kozo-sama’, and he will grant every wish you make. But you have to look after him. Place him by the altar in your house and make sure that three times a day you feed him fresh Ebi Namasu (prawns soaked in rice vinegar), with your own hands. No-one else can do it.. If you do this, you will have good fortune”. She left the little boy and disappeared.
The old man was amazed. He took the child home and fed him with the Ebi Namasu. He did this for a few days before he decided to test the lady’s promise. Looking around at his poor old shack with its rotting roof, earth floor and draughty windows, he said.
“I wish for a rich and beautiful mansion!. The silent little boy looked at him and then blew a great big gob of snot “phun!” out of his nose. And instantly the shack was transformed into a beautiful house. The old man was delighted. But when he looked at his clothes, he saw how torn and ragged they were. So he asked for fine clothes. “PHun” went the little boy. A large gob of snot spattered onto the clean tatami matting, but the old man was now dressed in a fine kimono. “Oh thank, you, thank you – but I think I will need some money too!” “Phun!” and alongside the snot appeared a stack of boxes, each one containing a thousand gold coins. From that day on, the old man grew richer and richer. He had servants to fulfil his every need and soon became popular in the district for the fine feasts he gave. But after a time, one thing began to bother him. Every day he had to remember to feed the little boy, not just once, but three times a day! And that little boy’s appearance never changed. He remained the ugly, dirty, snotty child that he had first encountered. Finally he lost patience, and said to him, “Of course I am grateful for all you have given me. But I don’t need you any more now I am rich and famous. So it’s time for you to go back to the Dragon King. Goodbye!”
The little boy said nothing. He walked out of the house. When he got to the gateway, he turned and looked directly into the old man’s eyes. Then he sniffed loudly “Zurun!”. And instantly the mansion, the gold and the fine clothes disappeard. So did the boy. And the old man was back where he started in his tumbledown shack in his ragged clothes, looking at a bowl of Ebi Namasu.
About this story
I first heard this from storyteller; Kyoko Fujiki, who uses a beautiful wooden puppet as the little boy. In some other versions, the child is described as “abnormal” or “foolish”, so there is a clear association with disability. Professor Komatsu, an expert on folklore, also connects the child with the status of riverdwellers in the medieval period, who were low status and treated like children – a reminder that the stigma of exclusion is not just associated with disability. Hana-tare Kozo-sama is not strictly a hero – I am stretching the concept here – but he is powerful, and reminds us of the importance of nourishing and caring for people we find alien and strange; not losing touch with our origins, and keeping gratitude alive.
•Start in the cold, windy shack, huddle up together under camouflage netting. Sounds of the market, feeling of a weight on your back, splash in the river. See what you can find to represent the snot! (there are various slime recipes on the web) Snorting and sniffing sounds. Tasting the food the child eats each day (see activities). Use lengths of coloured and sparkly fabric to represent the transformation.
•Slime recipes – see internet. One less faffy (or chemical) option is to melt some green jelly. See how far you can flick it!
•Cooking for Hana-tare Kozo. The prawn dish is of course very common in Japan (especially for river dwellers) but you need an alternative, so ask the children to discuss and agree what you will prepare to represent the food in the story.
•Wishing – what would we wish for? Draw some pictures to show your dreams.
•Magic tricks – try out some ways of making objects vanish. Again, there are lots of ideas on the web (make objects disappear). A simple technique is as follows (basic instructions only, needs lots of drama to trick the audience)
The disappearing pen
1.Put on a long-sleeved top with a space to hide the pen, the same colour type as your pen
2.Hold the pen between your index fingers and thumbs horizontally in front of the audience, palms towards you.
3.With your middle finger, snap the pen back to your wrist, and down into your sleeve.
4.Open your hands to show the pen has disappeared.
•What does this story mean to you?
•What would you say to the old man?
•Suppose the little boy could not give you wishes, would you still look after him?
•How do you think he felt when he was with the old man? When he was sent away?
UK and European stories
This story is in the tradition of “foolish wishes”. The Fisherman’s Wife is a version of a Grimm tale which has a flounder caught in the sea giving wishes i. The fisherman’s wife keeps asking for more and more and more until finally she demands to be in control of the sun and moon, at which point all the magic disappears. The chant that goes with this is:-
Flounder, flounder in the sea/Hear my voice and come to me? Come, for my wife Isabel/Wishes what I dare not tell.
Another version, very popular with children, is The Old Woman in the Vinegar Bottle.
Once upon a time there lived a poor man and his wife who sold firewood for a living. One day the old man went to the town, carrying a load on his back. He called out “wood for sale, wood for sale!” But no-one bought any wood that day. Tired and demoralized, he started to trudge back home. As he crossed a bridge over a river, he haan idea. He would give the wood to the Dragon King who lived under the river. He tossed his burden over the side, saying “Dragon King, here is a gift for you”. Straightening his back he walked on, when he heard a voice calling him. When he turned round he saw a young woman holding a small boy by the hand. “The Dragon King is pleased with your gift" she said.