Japanese tale #38 – Like Horse and Deer

horse and deer

Once upon a time, a bride and her mother-in-law lived under a same roof. Both were women with fiery tempers, quick wits… and tongues to match.

Since the bride had married her son and moved in, the mother-in-law kept snarling, muttering under her breath how things had been much better before that girl joined their family.

Without missing a beat, the bride always talked back, hurling barbs at her with fake deference about how old her new mother was and how tired and how useless she must felt.

The two women quarrelled from dawn to dusk about the pettiest things.

The son and his father had sure tried to calm things down. But after some nasty fights – and claw marks, the two men had hastily retreated. And they now stood aside, careful to not be caught in those heated crossfires.

The shrews did all they could to annoy one another. As the mother-in-law liked her meals very hot, the bride always served diner just mildly warm, saying:

– Here mother, it will be good for your sensitive old stomach.

And as the young woman loved hot baths, the older one always took all her time pampering herself, fakely apologizing when getting out of the bathroom:

– Oh the water is cold! Sorry, I must have fell asleep in the tub!

And this went on and on.

One day, as the bride worked in the kitchen garden, under the grumpy watch of her mother-in-law, she saw a horse prancing in a field. Fed up with the old woman close scrutiny and mute disapproval, the bride said as carefree as she could:

– Mother, see over there? This horse is so funny!

Yet her sly smile said: come on old hag, make a fool of yourself!

The older woman, always ready to contradict her, did not even throw a look at the field. She only scorned haughtily:

– And they say you have young eyes! Look again, this is no horse but a deer!

The bride barked:

– A deer? With no antlers nor spotty coat? A horse it is, look closer!

The mother-in-law let out an exasperated sigh:

– Many deers have not antlers girl! A deer it is!

And once again, the fight escalated quickly. By the time son and father came home from work, the furies were spitting at each others faces:

– Horse!

– Deer!

They suddenly turned to their men, pleading with fake tears:

– Husband, again your mother can’t utter a simple truth!

– Clearly the wench can’t admit when she’s wrong!

and finished in perfect unison:

– Tell her I’m right!

Father and son exchanged a dumbfounded look and answered, voice shivering with embarrassment:

– But we weren’t there, how could we know for sure?

All Hell broke lose.

– You never take a side!

– You useless bastard!

In a matter of moments, the two women were yelling at the top of their lungs, throwing nasty words at their men as much as at each other. What had started with a sly remark had now turned into full domestic warfare.

That night, not a soul in their neighborhood was able to sleep a wink. The bride and mother-in-law quarrels had reached a peak. Fed up with them, their neighbors decided it was more than time to act. And they called for a local judge to settle their argument, once and for all.

Before the hearing, the old woman quietly approached the magistrate:

– Please, tell everyone that what we saw was a deer. If you don’t, my daughter-in-law will become even more insufferable!

The judge only close in eyes for a second.

Moments later, the bride came as secretly and whispered to him:

– Please, tell everyone that what we saw was a horse. My mother-in-law will just turned even more tyrannical if you say she was right!

The judge only had a small gesture.

When the torn family arrived in the audience room, the two women were gloating, each sure they would win.

The judge took his seat and look at them thoughtfully. Finally, he said:

– I have heard your complaints. Now listen carefully: the beast you saw was no deer.

The mother in law looked like she had swallowed a lemon. But before the bride could exult, the judge went on:

– Yet it was no horse either.

The young woman turned sour as the magistrate rose. He throw a stern look at the two couple standing in front of him:

– No horses nor deers, but idiots! Yes ladies, only idiots would argue about such a foolish thing!

And as the father and his son smiled, he added:

– And you don’t look so proud, you are as big idiots as your wives for letting the feud spread! Go home and make peace, this case is closed!

The four of them hastily went back home under their neighbors’ laughs and jeers. And they say the bride and her mother-in-law, ashamed for good, never ever bicker again.


In Japan, household has been a feminine realm for long. Today still, it’s not unusual for salarymen to be handed daily pocket money by their wives, old souvenir from a time where women had to manage their homes with an iron hand, tending to daily chores and important business alike.

If it was not the rule during ancient times (like in Heian period), by Edo era it had become customary for brides to settle in their husbands’ families. There, they were expected to take care of the whole household, and obey their father and mother in law, following a strict etiquette (like who could bath after who).

Many tales stress the abusive behaviours of some families. Some stories side with the poor bride, others with the unfortunate mother-in-law, but I have found few underlining the stupidity of those family feuds as clearly as today’s one.

Like with all societal subjects, stories has to be taken with a grain of salt. If wives were supposed to live with their husbands, many different situations existed, especially among the lower classes (freer than nobles and samurai). Divorce was a common thing, as was adoption of adults in a new family, and women could also return living with their parents without causing a fuss.

Knowing that, the stupid behaviour of today’s characters becomes truly obvious… and humorous!

[pictures sources: 1 / 2 / 3]

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