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Flowers of Myth and Legend 3: Japanese Myths ? in flowers!

Earlier in this series, we’ve captured the importance of flowers in the ancient myths of some Western cultures – the Greek myth of larkspur springing from the slain body of Ajax, and an amazing depiction of Norse myths in the form of flowers.

But today, we’re taking a journey east.

Japanese culture is full of references to flowers. For example, the beautiful haiku of Matsuo Basho contain many references to flowers, such as this example:

The lilies!
The stems, just as they are,
the flowers, just as they are

And Japanese myth, too, contains plenty of tales of flowers. Today we bring you the story of the Old Man and the Cherry Tree:

The old man and his wife lived with their dog in ancient Japan. They loved to walk out to see the cherry blossom. One day, as they walked out, their dog began to dig: he had discovered a great treasure of gold coins!

The old couple’s neighbour grew jealous, and borrowed the dog. But the dog would find no gold coins for him. Angry and bitter, the evil neighbour killed the dog. The old man and his wife buried it beneath the cherry tree.

Later, they used a branch from the cherry tree to make a mortar, a tool for grinding flour. When they used the mortar for the first time, flour flowed magically from the bowl. The kind dog’s spirit lived on in the cherry-wood.

But the evil neighbour grew jealous again, and tricked the couple into lending him the mortar. But when he used it, stinging insects attacked him from his flour bowl! He grew angry, and burned the mortar.

The old man scraped up the ashes of the magic mortar, and sprinkled them on the grave of the dog which had given them so much. Although it was winter, the tree suddenly sprang into beautiful blossom. The magic dog, despite everything the jealous neighbour had tried, was still giving his master gifts: this, his final gift, was the gift of beautiful cherry flowers all year round.

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