Once upon a time, lived a old woman named Izumi-san. Near her small village, spread a fallow field. Its soil was black and would have born many good crops.
But, the lord of the land had requisitioned all the men around and like many others, Izumi-san’s husband had gone to war.
In the village, only old or sick women, who had not been able to seek refuge away with relatives, remained. All the healthy ones were ladies living in nearby town, unwilling to get their hands dirty.
Izumi-san couldn’t cultivate that field alone because, right in the middle, stood a wide grey rock. The big boulder was large and heavy. She had never been able to move it even from an inch.
– That damn stone! Always standing in the way! If it wasn’t there, work will be easy!
Yet, Izumi-san was a clever woman. She thought and thought and one day…
– That’s it!
… she came up with a plan.
She put on her best kimono on and went to town. Soon, the gossips took notice of her unusual demeanor:
– Oi Izumi-san! Here you are looking all dollied up! Why are so you so pretty today ?
– Shhh not so loud! Actually, I just got a lot of money selling my best ox.
Keeping her voice low, the sly woman sound as letting them into a big secret.
– But keeping that much money home is dangerous. You my friends, where would you hide such a fortune?
The other women had no good ideas to share. But quick enough, the word of Izumi-san’s good fortune spread.
– What a fool, to talk so freely about her gold!
The next day, Izumi-san went to the fallow field. Just in front of the big boulder, she put a wooden board on which was written:
There’s nothing here
And she went back to her usual occupations.
The town was buzzing with envy.
– Izumi-san is truly a fool. Nothing here? Pfff! I sure can bet that’s where she hid the money!
Behind doors, ladies whispered about the hidden coins. And Izumi-san kept parading all around town, a smug smile playing on her lips.
Then, three days later, she went back to the fallow field.
The board was gone and in its place was a big hole, so deep two men could have stood tall and so wide a cart could have settled in. Ladies had caught the bait and dug hard during the night, hoping to find the inexistent treasure.
Izumi-san burst out in laughter:
– Ah finally! This is just perfect!
She brought oxen and tied them to the big rock. The beasts pulled hard and, thanks to their strength, the boulder fell neatly into the hole.
The only thing left then was to fill the hole back.
Izumi-san sat and sighed happily. Where the rock had once stood, now only spread a nice little field… with a good turned soil.
I’ve found different versions of this story, some with selfish and lazy protagonists (much like in this tale). But I prefer this one showing a trickster working her wits for the benefit of her community ^^
To explain the lack of workforce, I have chosen to set this story in a war time context, especially one like Muromachi Onin wars or Sengoku warring states. If those periods changed a lot of things for the ruling and military classes, they also had deep impacts on the “lesser” people enrolled to fight (like ashigaru)… and the ones who had to stay at home. Just think how brave and tough were all those who had to keep life going with the constant threat of pillage and famine !