Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Burning Fields (a story about a tsunami)

Long ago in Japan there lived an old man named Hamaguchi. His farmhouse sat high up on a plateau with a lofty wooded mountain behind it. His land sloped far down to the sea where a little village of about a hundred thatched houses and a temple stood on the shoreline.

One afternoon Hamaguchi sat with his young grandson on the balcony of his house, watching the people in the village below. The rice crop had been good; the villagers were holding their harvest festival. Shops were closed; streets were gaily decorated; villagers were about to join in the harvest dance.

Hamaguchi could see the vast blue sea in the distance. He suddenly felt a mild shock and his house rocked three or four times, then stood still. Hamaguchi had felt many earthquakes before. He was not at all frightened until he looked toward the sea.

The water was dark green and very rough. The tide had suddenly changed --- the sea was running swiftly away from the land! The puzzled villagers stopped their dancing and ran to the shore to watch. But Hamaguchi had seen one such sight as a little child. He knew what the sea was about to do. No time to send a message to the village, no time to ring the big temple bell, yet people must be warned.

"Yone!" he called to his little grandson. "Light a torch! Quick!"

The boy was puzzled, but he lit the torch immediately. The old man ran to the fields, where hundreds of rice stacks stood awaiting sale. It was everything he owned. He ran from one stack to another, applying the torch to each. The dry stalks caught fire quickly, and soon the red flames were shooting upward, and the smoke was rising in great columns.

Yone ran after his grandfather, shouting and crying, "Grandfather! Why are you setting fire to the rice?"

The old man had no time to answer, but ran on, firing stack after stack. The high wind caught the sparks and carried them farther, until all the fields were ablaze.

The watcher in the temple saw the fire and rang the bell; people turned to look. In Japan everyone in the village must give help in time of fire. The people began to run. They climbed the mountain --- young men, boys, women, girls, old folk, mothers with babies on their backs, even little children joined in the race to put out the fires. But when they reached the plateau, it was too late. All the rice was completely burned.

"It is too bad," the people exclaimed. "How did it happen?"
"Grandfather did it," cried Yone. "With a torch he set fire to the rice. He is mad."
"You did this thing !" they cried out in anger to Hamaguchi. "You set fire to your own rice fields! "
"Look toward the sea," said the old man, "and know my purpose."

The people looked, and far out at sea they saw a great wall of water swiftly sweeping toward them. It was the returning sea! The people shrieked, but their voices were lost in the thunderous sound, as the wall of water struck the mountainside below them. The hills were drenched in a great burst of foam.

When the cloud of spray disappeared, the people saw a wild sea raging over their village. Great angry waves seethed and tumbled above the house-tops. They rolled away roaring, tearing out houses and trees and great rocks, and bearing them off. Again the wall of water struck, and again and again, with less force each time. At last it fell back once more to its former bed.

The people were speechless. Their village was gone; their temple; their fields. Nothing was left but a few straw roofs floating on the water. But every man and woman and child was safe high up on the mountain.

Now the people understood why old Hamaguchi had set fire to his rice. There he stood among them. He had lost everything. And they fell on their knees to thank him.
Full text available at:
Ongoing Tales Old Time Fairy Tales

[by Anu D. Along the sea coast in Japan the earthquakes are sometimes followed by terrible tidal waves, that do more damage even than the earthquakes. This wonderful story tells of such a tidal wave.]


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