Once upon a time, in the countryside lived a poor but kindhearted old couple. It was New Year’s Eve, and the old man planned to got to town sell his handmade winter hats.
“Once I’ll have sold those five hats, I’ll buy us mochi to celebrate the coming year!” He said to his wife grinning.
She laughed heartily, happiness wrinkling the corner of her eyes.
“Thank you dear! But I think the snow will fall harshly tonight, so please be careful.”
The old man put his bundle on his back, bid farewell, and took the road. While he was walking snow started to fall; one snowflake, two, and then a million. The old man walked faster, wishing he’d be back home soon.
At the outskirts of the village, six stone Jizo stood side by side. Their round faces and peaceful aura were quietly disappearing under the pilling snow.
When the old man saw this, he couldn’t continue on without stopping to help.
“Oh poor Jizo! You must be cold and wet with all of this snow falling upon you! Here, take those winter hats. They are not much but they will protect you from this dreadful weather!”
Saying this, he untied his bundle and put a hat on each of the Jizo’s heads. But, there were only five hats and the Jizo numbered six standing unwavering in the blizzard.
The old man shrugged and took of his own winter hat to cover the last Jizo’s head. Having nothing left to sell in town, he hurried back home.
As he was untying his straw coat and leg warmers, his wife worried:
“My, my, you’ve come home early. Is everything alright? What happened in town?”
The old man sighed and told her about the poor Jizo by the road.
“Oh well my love, you did well. We don’t need mochi to have a happy New Year Eve!”
The old woman embraced her husband. This same evening, the old couple shared a frugal diner and went to bed while the snow-charged winds kept howling outside.
Yet, in the middle of the night, they woke up. A mysterious song was ringing in the eerie silence.
🎶 Old man, where is your house? Old man, let us thank you for the hats! 🎶
The singing voices were getting closer and closer, and at last they came to stop in front of the old couple’s house.
BAM! Something heavy fell to the ground, and then the whole world went quiet.
Trembling, the old man gathered his courage and slowly opened the door. Far away, he caught a glimpse of 6 silhouettes wearing winter hats disappearing behind a hill.
And in front of the house, stood a mountain of gifts! A true new year feast… topped with two mochi rice cakes.
Mochi are cakes which were traditionally made by pounding rice in a mortar. They can be eaten plain, grilled, or stuffed (with red beans paste for example). While found all year round, mochi are deeply linked to New Year’s celebrations in Japan. One of them is kagami mochi, an auspicious decoration made from two mochi topped with a mikan (mandarin orange).
Jizo is a Bodhisattva embodying altruism. Because he can travel thought the 6 realms (from Hells to the Human world), he is the guide of lost souls. He is well known for helping to guide dead children to the afterlife, using his cloak to shield them from dangers along the way. He also looks after travelers of all kinds. Jizo statues are a very common sight in Japan and can be found by road sides or at the entrances of cemeteries. »