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Japanese fairy tale: Urashima Taro
by [?]

A very long time ago there lived in Japan a young fisherman named Urashima Taro. His father before him had been a very expert fisherman, but Urashima’s skill in the art so far exceeded that of his father, that his name as a fisher was known far and wide beyond his own little village. It was a common saying that he could catch more fish in a day than a dozen others could in a whole week.

But it was not only as a fisher that Urashima excelled. Wherever he was known, he was loved for his kindly heart. Never had he hurt even the meanest creature. Indeed, had it not been necessary to catch fish for his living, he would always have fished with a straight hook, so as to catch only such fish as wished to be caught. And as for teasing and tormenting animals, when he was a boy, his tenderness towards all the dumb creation was a matter for laughter with his companions; but nothing would ever induce him to join in the cruel sport in which some boys delight.

One evening, as Urashima was returning from a hard day’s fishing, he met a number of boys all shouting and laughing over something they were worrying in the middle of the road. It was a tortoise they had caught and were ill-treating. Between them all, what with sticks and stones and other kinds of torture, the poor creature was hard beset and seemed almost frightened to death.

Urashima could not bear to see a helpless thing treated in that way, so he interfered.

‘Boys!’ he said, ‘that’s no way to treat a harmless dumb creature. You’ll kill the poor thing!’

But the boys merely laughed, and, taking no further notice, continued their cruel sport.

‘What’s a tortoise?’ cried one. ‘Besides, it’s great fun. Come on, lads!’ And they went on with their heartless game.

Urashima thought the matter over for a little, wondering how he could persuade the boys to give the tortoise up to him. At last he said with a smile, ‘Come, boys! I know you’re good-hearted young fellows: I’ll make a bargain with you. What I really wanted was to buy the tortoise,–that is, if it is your own.’

‘Of course it’s our own. We caught it.’ They had begun to gather round him at the prospect of a sale, for they relished the money to buy sweetmeats even more than the cruel sport of tormenting an innocent creature.

‘Very well,’ replied Urashima, bringing a string of coins out of his pocket and holding them up. ‘See! you can buy a lot of nice things with this. What do you say?’

He smiled at them so sweetly and spoke so gently that, with the cash dangling before their eyes, they were soon won over. The biggest boy then grabbed the tortoise, and held it out to him with one hand, while he reached for the string of coins with the other. ‘All right, uncle,’ he said, ‘you can have the tortoise.’

Urashima handed over the money in exchange for the poor, frightened creature, and the boys were soon making their way to the nearest sweetmeat shop.

Meanwhile Urashima looked at the tortoise, which looked back at him with wistful eyes full of meaning; and, though it could not speak, the young fisherman understood it perfectly, and his tender heart went out to it.

‘Poor little tortoise!’ he said, holding it up and stroking it gently to soothe its fears, ‘you are all right with me. But remember, sweet little one, you’ve had a narrow squeak of losing a very long life. How long is it? Ten thousand years, they say;–that’s ten times as long as a stork can boast of. Now I’m going to take you right back to the sea, so that you can swim away to your home and to your own people. But promise me you will never let yourself be caught again.’