Japanese tale #5 – Mooning monkey

mooning monkey

Once upon a time, up in the mountains, two rabbits were pounding mochi. To encourage themselves, they were singing:

🎶 We make mochi, how it sticks!

Sticky, sticky, sticky!

But so delicious, to whom will we gave some?

We’ll offer it to the mighty moon! 🎶

A monkey came passing by and heard the rabbits’ song. The thought of soft, sweet mochi cakes made its mouth water.

Oh how I want a taste of it! Come on, you sly beast, think! How can you get your hands on some?

The monkey went out of the forest and came up to the rabbits. It bent its back and bowed deeply:

Hello my friends! How hardworking you both are! Your offering looks so nice! Like you, I worship the glittering moon. But, look at my ragged coat! I am but a beggar and have nothing to give. I humbly ask you: would you let me help you to deliver your cakes?

The rabbits stopped pounding and looked at each other:

Oh poor animal! Our mochi are not ready yet, but any help is welcome. Here, take that mortar!

The monkey shook its hands :

Oh my I wouldn’t dare! Only professionals like you will be able to make worthy moon offerings. But, I can help you sing if you wish. And when you’ll be ready, I’ll run to the moon.

The monkey sat under a tree and start singing. The rabbits shrugged and returned to their work. The sly beast sang faster and faster, the rabbits doing their best to follow the rushing rhythm.

The mochi were soon ready. Still panting, the rabbits packed some with fragrant leaves, put them in a basket, and handed it to the monkey, saying:

Here it is. Be quick, our dear moon is nearly high!

The monkey started running, hard and fast. Snickering to himself, he barked:

Silly rabbits. As if I care about some glowing bubble hanging far up in the sky! Those sweets will make only my own delight tonight!

But, the rabbits have long ears and their hearing is very fine. The monkey was faraway, yet its curse was heard.

We’ve been scammed! Oh, that unfaithful monkey!

Yes my friend! Come we’ll show take care of it!

The rabbits dashed through the woods, squeaking:

Just you wait!

Echo of their anger came to the monkey who picked up its pace. But, the rabbits were swift on their feet, running fast and jumping light. Soon enough, they had cornered a very frightened monkey by the river.

Out of breath, the cunning animal tried to bluff:

Don’t come close or I’ll throw your precious cakes into the mud!

The rabbits took a step back and looked at each others from the corner of their eyes.

Just hand us half of the cakes and we will leave. Half will be more than enough to make our offerings.

The monkey could not believe its luck.

Half it is?

The rabbits nodded solemnly :

We promise.

As the monkey reached for the cakes, both rabbits jumped on him. One caught the basket while the other tackled the yelling beast to the ground.

You’re nothing but liars!

The rabbits snorted:

It takes one to recognize another. We do we do brother?

Let’s kick its big liar’s ass!

The rabbits had small feet but they were strong and the monkey had all the time to regret its mischief. After they left, the monkey went sloppily by the mountain road, grumbling and scraping its behind.

And since that day, all monkey still have bright red buttocks.


Notes :

Many Asian countries see rabbits in the moon markings. If in China, those animals are preparing the elixir of life, in Japan and in Korea, they’re thought to pound rice cakes.

Rabbit and mochi are especially linked to tsukimi or moon viewing. In the lunar calendar, this event was held mid-August (it is now held in September) and rice cakes, seasonal fruits and vegetables are offered to the moon to celebrate good harvests.

Rabbits running after a monkey reminds me of this image of the famous Choju Giga scroll. Who knows what this poor monkey had been up to!

[Pictures sources: 1 / 2 / 3 ]

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