The Tongue-Cut Sparrow


This is a chirimen-bon (crepe-paper book), which is a compact watojihon (book bound in a traditional Japanese bookbinding style) containing woodblock-printed pictures and text.  It was called a chirimen-bon because the paper was crinkled until it assumed a cloth-like texture. Published from the middle of the Meiji period until the beginning of the Showa period, chirimen-bon were illustrated translations of Japanese folk stories that were originally intended to increase the exposure of Japanese people to foreign languages after kaikoku (the reopening of Japan in the mid-19th century). However, they soon became popular as omiyage (small gifts) for foreigners. Kobunsha, the publishing company managed by Takejirō Hasegawa, started to translate and publish Nihon Mukashibanashi (Japanese fairy tale series) in 1885. The Tongue-Cut Sparrow is a story from the series. It tells of a nasty old woman who was doing her washing when a sparrow that was kept in a neighbor's house came and ate her laundry starch. The angry old lady cut off the bird’s tongue and chased it away. Saddened by this, the old man and old lady from next door set off to find the sparrow. They eventually found its house where they were warmly received by the sparrows. As an omiyage, the sparrow offered two wicker baskets of different sizes. The unselfish couple accepted the smaller basket and went home, whereupon gold and silver treasure appeared in the basket. The kind old man and old woman became rich and lived happily ever after. Envious of their good fortune, the nasty old lady visited the sparrow’s house and went home with the large basket. However, when she took the lid off, a troop of demons appeared from inside and tore her to pieces.

Last updated: December 9, 2014