Grandfather Cherry Blossom

    Once upon a time a kind old man lived with his gentle wife in a village at the  foot of a mountain. The old man was plowing his field one day when he heard someone shouting. It was the greedy old grouch who lived next door.
    "Bah! Get out of my garden!"
    Yip! Yip! Yip! A little white puppy came running toward the old man and jumped into his arms just as the grouchy neighbor
appeared.
    "That mutt was tearing up my garden. Hand him over!" demanded the neighbor.
    The frightened puppy was shaking and whimpering. "I'm sure he didn't mean any harm. Won't you overlook it just this once?"
    The kind old man smiled and bowed.
    "I'll make sure he doesn't bother you any more."
    "Suit yourself," grumbled the grouch, walking away angrily. "But if I ever see that stupid dog in my garden again, I'll kill him. "
    The kind old man and his wife decided to keep the stray puppy. They named him Shiro, which means "white," because his fur was the color of fresh,fallen snow.
    Now Shiro had a very big appetite, and the kind old couple always gave him as much food as he could eat. The more he ate the larger he grew, and soon he was so big he could carry the old man on his back.
    One morning, as the old man was hoeing his field, Shiro came and tugged at his sleeve, as if he wanted to show him something.
    "What is it, Shiro? I'm kind of busy, boy."
    But Shiro wouldn't leave him alone. Finally the old man climbed on the huge dog's back and off they went, up the mountain behind the house. When they neared the top, Shiro stopped next to a tree and began barking.
    "Arf, arf! Dig here! Arf, arf!"
    The old man scratched his head, shrug, ged, and started to dig with his hoe. Before long he struck something hard.
    "Hm? What's this?" He kneeled down and reached into the hole. "Why, it's . . , it's gold! Gold coins, and lots of them!"
    That night the old man and his wife were sitting at home talking excitedly about how Shiro had found the treasure, when the
greedy old grouch happened by with his even greedier old wife. They peeked through a hole in the door and spotted the pile of gold. When the grouch overheard the story, he was green with envy. He found Shiro, threw a rope around his neck, and dragged the dog home with him.
    The next day, the old grouch and his wife jumped on Shiro's back and drove him up the mountain, kicking and whipping him mercilessly. They had almost neared the peak when Shiro's strength gave out and he fell over, panting.
    "This must be the spot!" cried the greedy old man. He started digging, and before very long-clank!-his hoe struck something hard.
    "Hooray! We did it! We're rich!"
    Convinced that he had found gold, the old grouch reached into the hole. What came out, however, weren't gold bars at all but slimy snakes-Hisssss, hisssss -and weird, smelly goblins- Wooooo!
    The old grouch and his wife screamed and fell back, covering their eyes. When they finally opened them, the snakes and goblins were gone and their fear gave way to rage.
    "Look what you've done, you stupid dog! " yelled the grouch. "I'll teach you not to make a fool of me again!" He picked up his hoe and gave Shiro such a blow over the head that it killed the poor dog instantly.
    The kind old man and woman, of course, were heartbroken when they learned what had happened. They carried Shiro down from the mountain and buried him near their home. Next to the grave they planted a little tree, and after saying a prayer for the dog they had loved so much, they went home with tears in their eyes.
    That might have been the end of the story. But soon a wondrous thing began to happen. The tree the old couple had planted started to grow at an unbelievable speed. In no time at all it was so large you couldn't reach around it.
    One morning the old man and his wife were putting fresh flowers on Shiro's grave when they looked up at the great tree and marveled at how it had grown. And at that moment something even more wondrous happened.
    They heard a voice coming from inside the trunk. "Make me into a mortar," it seemed to be saying. "Make me into a mortar..." The old man scratched his head, shrugged, and went to the house to get his axe. He cut down the tree and shaped part of the trunk into a large mortar for pounding mochi-soft rice cakes.
    "Come to think of it, Shiro always loved mochi, didn't he?" said the gentle old woman when they got the mortar home. "Let's make some to put on his grave."
    "That's a good idea,"
    Oomph! Ah! Oomph! Ah! The old man pounded the rice in the mortar with a heavy wooden mallet, and after each swing his wife kneaded the gradually thickening dough. It was getting smooth and sticky when suddenly the old woman stopped and pointed inside the mortar. Something was glittering in there.
    "Look, dear," she said. "What's that?"
    "I don't know. I've never seen mochi like this. "
    They took the dough out of the mortar and rolled it into little round cakes. And as they watched, the mochi hardened and began to shine even more brightly.
    "Why, this isn't mochi," the old man cried. "It's gold!"
    So it was. And who should show his face again just at that moment but the greedy old grouch from next door. He and his wife had been peeping in the whole time. "Say," he said, "how about lending me that mortar?"
    "But . . . but this is all that's left of dear old Shiro..."
    "You'll get it back. Don't be so stingy." The grouch and his wife walked right in and carried the mortar away. And as soon as they got home, they started to pound their own mochi.
    The greedy old woman kept peering inside the mortar. "It hasn't changed color at all," she said. "I know-we've got to shape it into little cakes."
    So that's just what they did, placing the small round pieces in a row on the table. And sure enough, right before their eyes, the mochi began to change-but not into gold. It became a mass of gooey black charcoal. The old grouch and his wife stared at the mess in disgust and were just about to begin yelling at each other when-poofl-the charcoal exploded, filling the kitchen with flames and black soot. Sputtering and shouting, the grouch grabbed his axe, chopped the mortar into tiny bits, and threw the pieces into the fire.
    The kindhearted old man broke down and cried when he heard what had happened. He went to the grouch's house, gathered up the ashes of the mortar, and placed them in a basket. "Shiro..." he sobbed as he carried the basket home.
    His gentle wife tried to comfort him. "Let's scatter these ashes on the field," she said, "and grow some of those giant radishes that Shiro used to love so much." The old man agreed and they walked slowly out to the field with the basket.
    Now it was a very windy day, and as the old man was scattering the ashes, some of them blew onto a withered old cherry tree. And that's when the most wondrous thing of all happened.
    No sooner had the ashes fallen on the tree than the dry branches sprang back to life and became covered with beautiful blossoms.
    "Goodness gracious! Come quick, dear. Watch this!"
    As his wife looked on, the old man ran about sprinkling ashes on cherry trees. And every tree touched by the ashes began to
bloom. Soon the little field was alive with colorful flowers.
    In the days that followed, all the people in the village came to marvel at this wonderful sight. "Such lovely cherry blossoms," they would say. "And it's not even spring!"
    The word spread like wildfire from village to village, until it reached the ears of a great daimyo. Once he'd heard of this miracle, the daimyo decided he must see it with his own eyes. Taking ten or twelve of his best soldiers, he made the long journey over the mountains to the little village where the old man lived. When he got to the house, the old man came
out, bowing, to greet him.
    "I've heard a lot about you, old man," skid the daimyo. "Let me see what you can do."
    The old man climbed up a withered cherry tree. "If it please your lordship," he an, nounced, "I'll make this dead cherry tree come back to life and bloom."
    And that's exactly what he did, much to the daimyo's amazement. The ashes he sprinkled on the branches turned, in the
twinkling of an eye, into lovely pink and white flowers.
    "Extraordinary! I've never seen anything like it!" the daimyo exclaimed. "Old man, you're the best blossom,maker in the land.
Henceforth, sir, you shall be known as Grand, father Cherry Blossom. Allow me to reward you with this." The daimyo held out a sack full of silver and gold.
    "Just a moment, your lordship!" came a familiar voice. The greedy old grouch from next door ran up to the daimyo and bowed. "I'm the real Grandfather Cherry Blossom. Watch this . . ." He snatched the basket from the kindhearted old man, climbed a tree, and threw the ashes into the air.
    But instead of turning into blossoms, the ashes merely fell toward the ground, and a gust of wind blew them right into the daimyo's face. The daimyo sneezed and coughed, rubbed his eyes, and brushed the ashes off his clothes. He was enraged. "Ar,
rest that old impostor!" he shouted to his soldiers.
    So the grouch was tied up and carted off to jail. And it served him right, don't you think?