Rikumo Tales: The Stonecutter

Every month we share one story with you that has been shared many times before.  In this season of gratitude, we honor the legacy of Japanese stonecutters and other craftsmen who persevere in humble circumstances. 

Once upon a time there lived a stonecutter who daily went to the mountains and cut out slabs of rock for gravestones and houses.  He understood very well the various uses of diverse stones, and as he was a diligent workman he had plenty of customers.  For a long time he was quite happy and contented, wishing for nothing more.

It just so happened that in the area where he worked lived a mountain spirit  who occasionally appeared to men and helped them become successful.  The stonecutter, however, had never encountered this spirit and only shook his head in unbelief when anyone spoke of it.  

One day, however, the stonecutter carried a gravestone to the house of a rich man and saw there all sorts of beautiful things of which he had never even dreamed.  Suddenly his daily toil seemed unbearable, and he said to himself: "Oh, if only I were a rich man and could sleep in a bed with silken curtains and golden tassels; how happy I should be!"

He had no sooner spoken than he heard a voice answer him: "Your wish is heard; a rich man you shall be!"

At the sound of the voice, the stonecutter looked around but could see nobody.  He picked up his tools and went home, resolved to do no more work that day.  But when he reached his home, he stood still with amazement: instead of his wooden hut was a stately house filled with splendid furniture and a bed as magnificent as the one he had envied.  He was nearly beside himself with joy, and in his new life the old one was soon forgotten.

It was now the beginning of summer, and each day the sun blazed more fiercely.  One morning the heat was so great that the former stonecutter could scarcely breathe and he decided he would stay at home until the evening.  Then a carriage passed by, drawn by servants dressed in blue and silver.  In the carriage sat a prince, and  a servant held a golden umbrella over his head to shield him from the sun's rays.

"Oh, if I were only a prince!" said the stonecutter to himself as the carriage vanished around the corner.  "Oh, if only I were a prince and could go in such a carriage and have a golden umbrella held over me to protect me from the sun's rays; how happy I should be!"

He had no sooner spoken than the voice of the mountain spirit answered: "Your wish is heard; a prince you shall be."

And a prince he was.  Before his carriage rode one company of men and another behind it; servants dressed in scarlet and gold bore him along and the coveted umbrella was held over his head.  Honor and riches were his to enjoy.  But he was not happy; he looked around still for something to wish for, and when he saw that the rays of the sun scorched the grass and darkened his own face even with the umbrella over it, he cried out in anger: "The sun is mightier than I.  Oh, if only I were only the sun!"

And again the mountain spirit answered: "Your wish is heard; the sun you shall be."

And the sun he was, and felt  proud of his power.  He shot his beams above and below, on earth and in heaven; he burned up the grass in the fields and scorched the faces of princes as well as of the poor.  Soon, however, he began to bored and discontent, and when a cloud came to shield the earth from him he cried out in anger: "The cloud traps my rays and is mightier than I!  Oh, if only I were a cloud!"

And again the mountain spirit answered: "Your wish is heard; a cloud you shall be!"

And a cloud he was, and set himself between the sun and the earth.  He caught the sun's beams and held them, and to his joy the earth grew green again and flowers blossomed.  But that was not enough for him, and to show his power he poured forth weeks of rain until the rivers overflowed their banks and all the rice fields were flooded.  Towns and villages were destroyed by the power of the rain; only the great mountains remained unmoved.  The cloud was amazed at the sight and cried: "Are the mountains mightier than I?  Oh, if I were only the mountain!"

And again the mountain spirit answered; "Your wish is heard; the mountain you shall be!"

And the mountain he was, and rejoiced in his power.  Proudly he stood, and neither the heat of the sun nor the force of the rain could move him.  But one day he heard a strange noise at his feet, and when he looked down he saw an inconspicuous stonecutter using iron tools to cut out great chunks of rock, which fell to the earth with a thunderous crash.  Then he cried out in anger: "Is a tiny man mightier than me?  Oh, if only I were a man!"

And again the mountain spirit answered: "Your wish is heard.  A man you shall be!"

And a poor stonecutter he was as before.  He toiled at his trade in the sweat of his brow and was content, never again wishing for a different place in life.  And as he asked for nothing else, he never again heard the voice of the mountain spirit.