“Tale of the Crane and the Tortoise” and “Tale of the Pine and the Bamboo”


Presented here are two picture scrolls of the Tale of the Crane and the Tortoise and the Tale of the Pine and the Bamboo. They are otogizōshi, Japanese fairy tales of the Muromachi period (1336−1573). Both stories deal with the themes of longevity and perpetual youth. Wealthy people in the Edo period are said to have ordered custom-made versions of particularly propitious otogizōshi and used them for their Dokushohajime (a ceremony held when someone starts to study) or as part of a marriage dowry. The gorgeous appearance of these scrolls suggests that was the case with them as well. The pictures were painted by Tosa Mitsusada (1738‒1806) and his son Tosa Mitsuzane (1780‒1852). Both artists were deeply trusted by the Edo bakufu (shogunate) and the imperial court, and worked closely with them, but they also took orders from private civilians. The first scroll depicts the miracles of Yakushi Nyorai (the Healing Buddha). The youngest child of Emperor Seimu (legendary emperor, reigned 131‒90), the Imperial Princess Sazareishi, was given the medicine of longevity and perpetual youth because of her devotion to Yakushi Nyorai. The Emperor Seimu also soon began to believe in Yakushi Nyorai, and he too retained his youth and flourished happily for a long time. The crane and tortoise in the title appear in the song played by auspicious dancing cranes that bless the princess. The second scroll (volume 2 in this presentation) contains a tale that explains why pine and bamboo are now considered auspicious in Japan. A couple was reputed to have lived for more than 1,000 years because they drank the strange water in the stream from Mount Iwane in Hyuga Province. When Emperor Itoku (legendary emperor, reigned 510‒477 BC) learned about this, he ordered that the water to be brought to him. He drank the water and also lived a very long time. Eventually, the man and woman of the story turned into pine and bamboo, then became Iwane-no-miya Shrine that came to be worshipped. It is said that the custom of using pine and bamboo on happy occasions comes from this story.

Last updated: January 29, 2018