Japanese tale #4 – Cedar wood: one hundred

cedar wood

Once upon a time, lived a man named Hiro-san.

Hiro-san was known as being a lazy and penny-pinching yet everyone recognized the man at least had wits.

The town temple was getting very old. Paint was chipped and wood had lost its luster. It was more than time to rebuild it.

So once morning, the local officer came knocking at Hiro-san’s house to collect his donation.

– Hiro-san, open your door! Everyone must give something for the temple! You Hiro-san, what will you give me?

Hiro-san opened his door and looked at the officer through slanted fox-eyes. He finally smiled:

– Of course I will, let me write down my promise.

Hiro-san took the notebook the officer carried with him. Holding his brush, he wrote down with his best writing:

Cedar wood, one hundred

And he signed with his red seal. The officer turned wide eyes at him:

– What? One hundred cedars? That’s a true fortune!

The officer bowed and bowed then he swiftly ran to the headman’s house. While the officer was happily relating Hiro-san’s generous offer, the headman was boiling:

– This stingy man is ready to give that much? I will not give less! Pass me your book!

And the headman to write in big, bold letters:

Cedar wood, one hundred.

But the headman was quite embarrassed his donation only equaled Hiro’s one.

He sighed deeply and also added reluctantly before applying his own seal:

Rice bales, one hundred

As the officer went from home to home, villagers were both surprised and a bit insulted Hiro-san had promised such a big gift. Not willing to do less than their well-known miser, everyone promised generous donations.

When the collect day arrived, the officers’ mules were loaded with hundreds of fine gifts.

And on the village square, the headmaster stood proudly among one hundred cedar trunks.

A crowd had gathered in front of Hiro-san’ house, curious to see the man fulfill his incredible offer.

– Hiro-san, Hiro-san! We’ve come taking the hundred cedars you’ve promised!

Yet, the village officer was puzzled:

– Hiro-san, I do not see the cedar wood, where must we collect it?

The lanky man finally opened his door, and lazily made his way to the officer.

– Oh officer, please excuse the delay! It was not easy taking all of them with me. Give me your hands!

And saying that, Hiro-san passed him a hundred of fine chopsticks. All made of cedar wood.


Japanese is a language which uses a lot implicit logic. For example, it easily drops subject by relying on context – which both speakers are supposed to know.

To count, Japanese adds to numbers counter words which categorize what is being counted. You have counter words for people, birds, small animals, big animals, days, flat objects, clothes, etc.

This whole story revolves around the counter word 本 which is used, among other things, to count long cylindrical things. Hiro-san never actually says what kind of long cylindrical object he would give. He stayed very vague and avoided using the right counter word for chopsticks (膳). Given the context (cedar wood was often used in building), everyone just assumed it had to be cedar trunks!

[Pictures sources: 1 / 2 / 3 ]

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