Long, long ago, deep in a bamboo forest, there lived
an old man and his wife. Though the forest was a lovely place, life
was rather dreary and lonely for the old couple,for they were very poor and had no children of their own to love and care for.
The old man spent his days outdoors, cutting bamboo. He used the bamboo to make baskets, tableware, hats, and other goods which he sold to the people in town. We no longer know what the old man's real name was, but in those days everyone simply called him "the bamboo,cutter." And this is the story of a wondrous thing that happened to him and his wife.
One day the old man was walking through a dark thicket looking for good, straight bamboo to cut when he noticed a golden halo of light shining in the darkness. It seemed to come from a single, slender bamboo plant. The old man was astonished. In all his years of cutting bamboo, he'd never run across anything like this, and he decided to cut open the plant to see what made it
shine so. He took out his axe and felled the bamboo with one stroke, and you'll never believe what he found.
Inside the hollow stem was a tiny baby girl! She was only about three inches high, and she was the cutest thing the old man had ever seen. He lifted the wee girl gently in the palm of his hand and carried her back to his house.
The moment he got home, he called to his wife. "Look what God has sent us," he said.
"Our very own daughter!"
"Goodness!" gasped the old woman. "Isn't she beautiful?"
The old man explained the miraculous way in which he'd found the girl, and he and his wife decided upon a name for her: Kaguya-hime, which means "Radiant Princess."
And that wasn't the end of the miracles. Almost every day from then on, the old man would come across bamboo plants that glowed with the same golden light. But when he cut these, there were never any little girls inside. Instead, there were piles of gold coins! Before long the old couple were very, very wealthy indeed. And that, of course, allowed them to raise Kaguya-
hime in a manner befitting a true princess.
Kaguya-hime grew astonishingly fast, sometimes as much as an inch in a single day. And each day she seemed more radiant and full of life. The old man would watch her racing along with a pinwheel in her hand or chasing dragonflies from flower to flower, and his heart would fill with joy. There's nothing I wouldn't do for that little girl, he often thought.
Of course, she wasn't a little girl for very long. In just three months, Kaguya-hime had become a mature young maiden, so beautiful that one wondered if she could possibly be of this world. Her extraordinary beauty made any man who
happened to look upon her fall hopelessly in love.
Word of the bamboo-cutter's lovely daughter spread quickly throughout the land, and rich young noblemen were soon beating a path to her door to ask for her hand in marriage. But Kaguya-hime refused to see them. "I shall never marry," she told the old man and his wife. "I'll never willingly leave your side." '
The old man was secretly gladdened by her words, for he loved Kaguya-hime as much as any father has ever loved his child, and dreaded the thought of losing her. But five of the suitors-five young men of great wealth and standing-were especially persistent. They camped outside the door day and night, pleading for a chance to see Kaguya-hime.
The old man was at a loss as to how to discourage these earnest young noblemen, and as time went by he began to feel sorry for them. At last he decided to ask his daughter to choose one as her husband.
"Very well," said Kaguya-hime softly. "Then I shall marry the one who brings what I ask. Tell the first to bring me a golden bough laden with fruit of living amber. The second is to bring an animal skin with fur of purest gold. . ."
Each of Kaguya-hime's demands was more impossible than the last: a fan that shines like the rising sun; a necklace made of dragons' eyes; paper that lights up the darkness.
The old man carried his daughter's message to the suitors, and the five young men set off immediately, each vowing to return with the gift Kaguya-hime had requested. Easier said than done, thought the old man. He was sure they'd soon abandon all hope of marrying her.
Imagine his surprise when, months later, all five returned with the fabulous treasures demanded of them. The amber fruit, the golden fur, the shining fan, the dragon's-eye necklace, the luminous paper~each was a marvel to behold. But when the gifts were brought before Kaguya-hime, she pronounced them all worthless. And, indeed, her own natural beauty so outshone the
glittering baubles that the suitors were forced to admit that they were fakes. The young men left the house dejected and heartbroken, never to see their beloved princess again.
The old man was relieved that the matter was finally settled and that his beautiful daughter would not have to marry and move away. But his happiness was to be short-lived. In the eighth month of that year, a change began to come over Kaguya-hime. Night after night she'd sit and gaze at the moon waxing ever fuller in the sky. And even as the moon grew brighter, the look in Kaguya-hime's eyes grew more wistful and melancholy.
Seeing this, the old man and woman began to worry. "Kaguya-hime, Kaguya-hime, what is it that makes you so sad?" they asked. Kaguya-hime burst into tears and laid her head on the old woman's lap. "Oh, I wish I could stay
with you forever," she sobbed. "But soon I must return."
"Return?" said the old man. "Return where?"
"To the city of the moon, where I was born."
"The city of the moon?"
"Yes. Now that I'm grown, they´ll be coming for me"
"What! Who? When?"
"The moon people. On the fifteenth night of this month, when the moon is full."
"But that's tomorrow! I won't hear of it!" cried the old man. "You're our daughter, and no one's going to take you from us."
He and his wife wrapped their arms around the maiden, and all three of them wept. "We'll never let you go, Kaguya-hime," the old man sobbed.
The next day, the old man hired a thousand strong samurai to keep the moon people away. Standing shoulder to shoulder, the warriors encircled the house, and even formed a column on the roof. When the moon began to rise over the mountains that evening, they lifted their bows and pointed their arrows at the sky. The old man and woman, meanwhile, sat with Kaguya-hime in the innermost room of the house.
Once the large round moon had risen fully, it cast a brilliant halo of light upon the stolid samurai, who now began to let fly their ar rows. But the arrows vanished in midair, and the moonbeams piercedthe warriors' armor, paralyzing them where they stood.
Then, from out of that unearthly two moon maidens appeared with a winged horse and chariot, descending toward the house. At the same time the door to the inner room slid open by itself, and Kaguya-hime rose and walked outside, as if drawn by some invisible force. The old man and woman realized now there was nothing they could do to keep her from leaving.
"Kaguya-hime!" they cried, running outside behind her. "If you must go, take us with you."
"I wish I could. You have no idea how much I'll miss you. Please take this as a token of my gratitude for the love you've shown me." So saying, Kaguya-hime dropped a pouch on the ground. "The medicine inside," she said, "will keep you from ever growing older. May you always be healthy and happy. Goodbye!"
Kaguya-hime stepped into the silver chariot, and the winged horse shook its mane and leaped into the sky.
With tears streaming down their faces, the old bamboo-cutter and his wife watched the horse, the chariot, and the heavenly maidens disappear in the light of the moon.
Later that night, the old couple stood beside a small fire they'd built outside. The old man was holding the magic pouch that Kaguya-hime had left behind. "So with this medicine we can live forever," he sighed, looking up at the bright full moon. "But without you, Kaguya-hime, how could we ever be happy again? And what good is life without happiness?"
And with these words, he tossed the pouch into the fire.