Story in a Nutshell

This Japanese folktale was written by Japanese poet Matsuo Basho. The tale highlights the orders given by a cruel who doesn’t want to get old and thus does not want to be reminded of being old and orders to kill all the elderly people. The story is also called “The Story of the Aged Mother” which revolves around the son and his elderly mother suffering because of the cruel king’s and having unconditional love for each other.

Characters

  1. The son: A poor farmer who lives at the bottom of a mountain.
  2. The old mother: Main character of the story, who has the wisdom that brings to save and benefit their land.
  3. The cruel ruler: the despotic ruler of Shining but later on he learned to give importance to the old folks.

The Cruel Ruler’s dreadful command

There lived a poor farmer with his old widowed mother at the bottom of a mountain. They had a little bit of land that helped them with their food supply throughout the year. The farmer and his mother were peaceful, humble, and happy people. The town nearby called Shining was ruled by a cruel ruler who was scared of getting old and losing his strength and thus didn’t even want to be reminded of getting old by seeing old people. As a result, he made a terrible decision of ordering every family to put their elderly people to death as soon as possible in the whole territory.

This created havoc among the people and many simply abandoned their old parents to die. The poor farmer who lived at the bottom of the mountain was crushed by this news as he loved his mother very dearly. No one ever dared to disobey the wicked ruler so the farmer thought of the least painful way to put his mother to death.

At the end of the day when his work was completed, he took some unwhitened rice which was the main food of the common people. He cooked it, dried it, and tied it up in a square cloth, and swung it in a bundle over his shoulders along with a pitcher filled with water. He then lifted his old mother onto his back and started to climb the mountain.

The old mother’s love for his son

The route up the mountain was lengthy and abrupt. Had been by hunters and woodcutters and at some points, they got lost and confused, but the farmer didn’t care about him getting lost. He just kept climbing upwards toward the top of the mountain. This region was known as Obatsuyama, which means “abandoning of the aged.”

The old mother when she was on her son’s back noticed that he was confused about his path as he was wandering from one direction to another. She got worried that he might get into trouble on his way back. So, as they traveled, she reached out her hand and snapped some branch twigs and dropped a handful every few steps to show the way back.

Finally, when they reached the top of the mountain the man was tired but he was also devastated at the thought of abandoning his mother. He put down the rice and water and prepared a comfortable place for his mother. He made a soft bed out of fallen pine needles and gently placed his mother upon it. The man wrapped his mother’s padded coat around her shoulders. Then, with tears in his eyes and pain in his heart, he said goodbye.

The old mother gave a last piece of advice to her son. Her voice trembled with unselfish love. She said, “My son, do not let your eyes be blinded. The mountain road is full of dangers. Look carefully and follow the path with piles of twigs on it. They will guide you back to the path you know lower down the mountain.”

The son looked back over the path and was surprised to see the piles of twigs. Then he looked down at the poor, old wrinkled hands of his mother. They were scratched and dirty because of the work she had done for him. He bowed down to give her honor and decided to not abandon her and take her back.

The Son feels guilty for abandoning

Once again he put his mother on his back and set off down the mountain. This time the weight seemed light to him now as he was able to make it through the shadows and the moonlight down to their little hut. There was a hidden basement under the kitchen floor where food was stored. The son hid his mother in there. He made sure that she had all the food that she needed but was always worried that they might get caught.

A few months later when the son thought that everyone had forgotten about the ruler’s command but then the ruler sent out another order which was extremely unreasonable. He wanted his people to give him a gift of a rope made of ashes.

Everyone was in fear as the order had to be obeyed, yet no one in all of Shining knew how to make a rope of ashes. One night, the son told his mother about the new order from the ruler. His mother advised him to make a rope of twisted straw and then stretch it upon a row of flat stones and burn it on a windless night.

The son called the people together and worked together to do just as his mother had said. When the fire died down, lying upon the stones was a perfectly shaped rope of ashes. When the ruler saw he was very pleased with the brilliance of the farmer and praised him but he also demanded to know how or where did he get the idea from. The farmer didn’t want to lie and told the ruler his story.

The ruler listened attentively then thought for a long time. Finally, he lifted his head and said, “Shining needs more than strength and youth. I forgot the old saying, ‘With the crown of snow, there comes wisdom!’” Immediately, the awful law was put to an end, and the custom drifted far to the past. Now, only the legend remains.

Conclusion

This short story is about the wisdom that older folks offer in a dictatorship. That even though aging takes away the strength of the human body, wisdom never dies. The mother was the one who guided the son through the mountains. The mother was the one who taught her son what love is. A mother’s love is irreplaceable to other things that a child could have. She gained wisdom through her experiences and out of it she will always guide her loved ones and give them the best of her soft heart.