Author's Notes as of 6/3/03: This story has been revised and this is the story that I had submitted for this year's creative writing contest in my local newspaper and I got honorable mention. My mom says I might have third because they announce the winners in the newspaper and have 3 to 4 honorable mentions for each section and the H.M. were not in alphabetical order for any part of names or titles. YAY! They spelled my name right!

At the bottom I put cultural notes to clear up any confusions you may have.

The Painted-form Wife: A Retelling of a Japanese Tale[1]

By LSR_7

Once upon a time long ago in the land of the rising sun there lived a young farmer. This young farmer's name was Taroumaru and everyday he toiled away on his plot of land under the intense heat of the sun. This young man lived alone in a small, two-room house that stood at a small distance from where he worked his land.

He would rise with the sun and walk to his small field, dragging his feet and walk back home even more slumped and reluctantly as soon as the sun touched the horizons to the west. His reluctance towards going through the day was caused by his loneliness. He had no one to lovingly send him off and no one to happily greet him when he returned.

"A man so young shouldn't have such an emptiness to his being," villagers commented when he walked by.

It was on a bright morning when Taroumaru was hoeing the rich brown-gold of earth near a well-used dirt road when he noticed a lone woman walking down it toward him. He rested against the wooden shaft of his hoe and watched as she approached him. He appreciated her graceful[2], flowing movements and found her to be perhaps the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Shining long blue-black hair was parted down the center of her head and tied back loosely, her face was softly rounded. Delicate, thin eyebrows brought attention to the almond-shaped obsidian eyes that were like a never ending well, drawing everything into them.

Taroumaru caught himself staring at this beauteous wonder and cast his eyes away in embarrassment when she stopped in front of him.

"Hello," he greeted her politely, ready to go back to work, for surely this lady, though unattended, must be someone very important and would not take time to greet him back.

"You are Taroumaru," she stated, and before he could acknowledge it she continued solemnly. "I am here to be your wife."

The young farmer dropped his hoe and almost choked in disbelief.

"There must be a mistake, perhaps you have mistook me for another of the same name, for you could not possibly be here to marry a lowly farmer," Taroumaru almost sputtered, turning red in his shyness.

"There is no mistake. I, Himiko, am to be your wife," she replied and demurely bowed with her eyes cast down.

Himiko and Taroumaru were wed[3] later that week in the small village. The villagers noticed a change in the young man with the appearance of this mysterious woman. He had a bounce in his step that had not been there before, his posture more erect, and a bright smile that told onlookers that he was thinking of a certain beautiful bride.

Being married to such a lovely wife caused a problem, although most of Taroumaru's transformation was positive. He would wake up before the sun rose and lay in their futon that was spread next to the fire pit in their small home just to look at her face, hardly believing that he was lucky enough to have wed someone as lovely as she. He would be reluctant to go out to the fields since all he wanted to do was observe her and sigh in contentment. Himiko was amused by this behavior, but gently urged him to go and work. He would sigh in disappointment, for if he could he would do nothing but admire her all day. He would leave for work after he gently touched her hand and look at her one last time for the morning and then announce that he was going out. Himiko would softly call out in answer and would close the door when he finally left.

Taroumaru would work hard so he could return home sooner and often found excuses to come back early to be with his wife. He would watch her as she did the housework that he had neglected in his days of being single.

"Should you not be out in the fields?" Himiko softly asked.

"Yes, but you are so beautiful I cannot stay out for long before I miss you," Taroumaru admitted.

Himiko lightly touched his cheek with her small hand, one of the few physical affections she paid to him.

"This is becoming a problem. You cannot stay in all day to watch me, for the field needs to be tended. I do nothing of interest in this house, just cleaning and cooking," she told Taroumaru.

"It is you that interests me," the young husband replied, his eyes softly glittering.

After Himiko managed to get Taroumaru to leave the house to go back to work, she slid the door shut and went to the main part of the village. She returned with paper, brushes, and ink.

She set to her delicate work carefully, studying a small mirror. After several tries she was finally satisfied with her handiwork and hoped Taroumaru would be as well.

Taroumaru came home as the sun was setting an orangish-red near a small crest on the horizon. The young farmer's black hair had come loose from his small topknot and stuck to his forehead and sides of his face with sweat. Dirt was smudged everywhere and his fingernails were black with it. But he was happy and anticipating his return home to see his wonderful wife.

"I'm home," he called out and he heard her reply. Well water was set out in a wooden bucket for him to wash himself with and he hurried through it.

He walked in to be greeted by Himiko's radiant smile; a cozy little fire flickering in the square fire pit was warming up some tea and dinner that awaited him. Himiko was serving herself a small portion and Taroumaru sat next to her and began eating, complimenting her cooking.

He noticed her ink stained hands and asked, "What happened to your hands?"

"I have been painting, dear husband. I will show you after dinner," she answered.

He nodded, wondering what she had been painting.

Their small dinner of rice, vegetables, and fish[4] was soon finished as they spoke of the day's events. Taroumaru spoke most of the time and had commented on how a raccoon[5] must be playing tricks on him. He had found some of his early grown crop gone and swore he saw a brown and black ringed tail out of the corner of his eye just after a root had landed on his head. Himiko laughed lightly, a sweet sound to anyone's ears, hiding her mouth with one of her hands.

Himiko gathered up the dishes and set them in a small tub of water to be washed later. She wiped her hands and went to a corner. She had placed the small packet of paper and brushes in the corner and gingerly picked up a painted paper.

Kneeling in front of her husband, who was still sitting on the floor where they had eaten dinner, she passed the paper to him. He accepted it and at the first glance he exclaimed, "This is beautiful! It is of you! How is it that you came to be so talented?"

Himiko blushed lightly at Taroumaru's exuberance and explained, "This is for you to take to the fields so that you may look upon it while you work and have no need to return home until it is the actual time."

"This is very beautiful, but a picture will never be as beautiful as the original. It will do and I promise I'll try to work hard," he said with embarrassment as he rubbed the back of his neck, a flustered smile on his face.

The next morning went as usual with Taroumaru waking up earlier than the sun to study his wife's sleeping face in the darkness that was lit only with the dying embers of the fire pit. He had been convinced by Himiko to go and he made himself content with the picture of her he tacked onto a stake he thrust in the ground as he worked.

This day was breezy and by midday it became a strong wind. The picture was torn from the single tack that had held it and blew away. Taroumaru became panicked and tried to chase after it, but it was useless since the wind only took it higher and further away. He finally gave up and returned home dejectedly.

This piece of paper flew for quite a long time, swirling in the air currents, dancing in the sky until the wind started to die down. It fluttered and swung back and forth gently above a grand procession until it hit a man's face. The richly dressed man the paper had struck was a feudal lord. He ripped the paper away from his face, ready to yell at all the guards near him for letting it touch him, when he noticed that something was on it. He carefully uncrumpled it and was silenced by the smiling beauty painted on it.

"I must have her!" he proclaimed to himself as a man who had never been denied anything would.

"Guards!" he screamed, "You must find this woman immediately and bring her to me, for she will be my wife!"

He showed the picture to the armor-clad guards, sending a sneer and a warning glare to anyone who got too close to the picture for his liking.

The men rode out on their horses in several directions to do the lord's bidding.

In the feudal lord's castle the lord's advisors studied the picture over the impetuous ruler's shoulders, commending him on an excellent choice.

"But what if this woman doesn't exist?" questioned a new advisor, still untried to the lord's short temper and spoiltness.

"She must exist!" exclaimed the scrawny lord, as if just his saying so would make it true. "No one could have imagined a woman of such glory!"

The new advisor kept silent, heeding the warning looks the others gave him.

The lord sent everyone out of his throne room and stayed admiring the picture and impatiently waiting for news of progress.

Taroumaru returned home sadly and explained to Himiko what had happened. She just patted his hand comfortingly and told him not to be so down, as it was only a picture. Taroumaru brightened, telling himself he was acting silly. Besides, he had the real woman with him.

The next day he came home very early with the excuse that he had forgotten his lunch and became concerned when he saw four royal guards entering his home. He ran into his small house and asked, "What are you doing in my home?"

"We are here to take this woman on command of his Royal Highness, Lord Ginro," a guard gruffly replied.

One formidable looking guard stood on either side of Himiko, who bowed her head in defeat.

"I will not let you take my wife!" Taroumaru roared, surprising Himiko, for she had never heard him raise his voice before, nor ever witnessed him angry.

"You do not have an opinion in this matter. Step aside," ordered a guard.

Taroumaru charged at him with his hoe raised high in the air, but a sword stopped its descent and knocked it out of the farmer's hands.

"Please! Do not hurt him!" Himiko pleaded, breaking free of the guards and rushing in front of Taroumaru as if to protect him.

Her guards pulled her away and Taroumaru attacked again, but he was no match for the skilled warriors and was soon subdued. But out of pity for the young couple, the guards only knocked the farmer unconscious and tied him up with rope from his horse. Normally anyone who dared to attack royal guards was put to death.

"Please let me leave him a note; it will be short, I beg of you," Himiko implored, a tear trying to escape her eyes.

The head guard shifted uncomfortably, avoiding her eyes and gave her a nod.

"Thank you."

She rushed to a corner and pulled out a clean sheet of paper and tried to keep from trembling as she wrote by brush a letter. She carefully folded it and gracefully wrote Taroumaru's name on it. She walked over to her unconscious husband and placed the note near him so that he would see it when he woke. From her sleeve she pulled out a small pouch and placed that neatly on top of the note and then knelt before her husband. All the while the guards observed her guiltily for causing her such sorrow.

Taroumaru had been sat up against a wall, his head slumped forward. Himiko gently touched his face then leaned in and whispered, "I will be waiting for you, dear husband. You will be my only love."

With a good-bye kiss to his forehead she got up, faced her captors and surrendered herself to them with resigned dignity.

Taroumaru woke up numb with pain and trembled with grief when he realized what had happened. He struggled with his bonds, which chafed the skin of his wrists raw. He noticed the folded letter and the small pouch out of the corner of his eye and read his name.

"They allowed her to leave me a note," he thought. His sorrow turned to anger and he finally managed to loosen the rope around his wrists enough to pull his hands through. He untied his feet and rubbed himself, trying to get blood to re-circulate.

Taroumaru crawled the short distance to the note, unfolding it gingerly as if it would turn to dust if breathed upon. He tried reading it in the dying light of the setting sun. It was very difficult, as he was barely literate, but after reading it multiple times he understood it.

To my beloved husband.

It is of no use to come fetch me at this time. I am sure that your life may come to danger and it would be quite foolish to do such a thing without thinking.

In the pouch I left there is a seed. Plant it and care for it for three years, because by then it will have become a peach tree. By that time it will bear fruit. When that time comes, pick the peaches and bring them with you to the capitol city and try to sell them as you walk around the palace.

I will be waiting for you, my dear husband.

Deflated of his rage, he was once again filled by sorrow.

Even in his depression Taroumaru did as his wife instructed and planted the peach seed. He cared for it carefully, for it was the last thing his wife had given him, and watched it grow. It seemed to the other villagers that it was his only reason to live. He lost weight, becoming gaunt and did not mend his clothing. He became only a faint impression of his former self, but tended to the sapling the seed had become.

As the year passed, Taroumaru protected and cared for the growing tree. Another year passed and the young tree stayed healthy throughout that time. The young farmer found himself speaking to it and finding comfort in the tree.

The third year finally came and Taroumaru waited patiently for it to grow its fruit. The day finally came and he was prepared for it. He picked the fuzzy pink peaches off the tree and carefully placed them in a tall basket he would wear on his back. It filled to the top with many more peaches to spare still left on the tree.

Taroumaru finally left the village for the city where his wife waited.

In the palace's throne room Lord Ginro and Lady Himiko were left alone. The lord had immediately married Himiko when she was brought three years ago. She was even more beautiful than the picture, but she did not smile like the picture. Lord Ginro tried everything possible he could think of to amuse her, something to make her smile. He dressed her in the finest of silks, had the prettiest flowers brought to be grown in the gardens, brought hundreds of entertainers all for even the faintest of smiles, but nothing worked. He did not refuse her anything with the exception of letting her leave the palace.

Today he was trying again to make her laugh by attempting to juggle, although he had tried before and had failed.

"Will you please smile?" he begged.

Himiko did not answer, for she rarely spoke anymore.

Lord Ginro did not let this discourage him because he told himself that he would find something that would make her smile, and, dare he hopeā€¦ laugh?

Taroumaru walked through the city gates and saw the palace with its red tiled roof that curved out gracefully. He drew nearer to it and decided to start calling out.

"Peaches for sale! Peaches for sale! Tasty peaches for sale!" he called out.

He kept walking and kept repeating it over and over. He reached the other walls of the palace and paced in front of it yelling, "Peaches for sale! Juicy, tasty peaches for sale!"

Inside the throne room the two occupants heard this. Lord Ginro was about to yell to a guard to have the annoying peddler quieted, but was stilled when he heard tinkling laughter. He watched Himiko in astonishment of her transformation and smiled widely.

"Do you find that peddler amusing? Then I shall have him brought in so he could amuse you," the lord said very happily.

He ran to a window and looked around, trying to spot the peddler. He finally found a man in dirty, ragged clothing with a large basket of peaches strapped to his back starting to move away.

"You! Peach peddler!" Lord Ginro shouted, "Come in, for you amuse my wife!"

Taroumaru looked up and saw a man leaning out of a window in the palace pointing at him. He was wearing the richest garbs he had ever seen. Guards came out and hustled the farmer into the palace grounds and escorted him to the throne room. Once inside Taroumaru took his basket off his back, his eyes not leaving the floor, and kneeled down and bowed down until his forehead touched the floor.

"Get up peddler, you are here to amuse my wife. Do what you were doing out there!" the lord ordered.

Taroumaru looked up from the floor and saw Himiko sitting beside the lord on a raised platform. Tears came to his aching eyes.

"Don't just stand there, you fool! Do as I told you!" Lord Ginro yelled impatiently.

Taroumaru did as he was told and picked up the heavy basket and yelled mournfully, "Peaches for sale! Fresh juicy peaches for sale!"

Himiko laughed and the lord laughed along with her. After a while the lord came up with an idea.

"Peddler! Let us trade clothes, so that I may entertain my wife!"

Taroumaru complied very uncomfortably. He was sat next to Himiko in the lord's rich clothing. Himiko looked so happy and Taroumaru wondered if she had fallen in love with this lord.

After a little while Himiko finally spoke.

"My Lord, it would amuse me further if you went out to the streets and acted as a peddler."

Lord Ginro nodded and smiled, willing to do anything for her smile and ran out of the palace in rags and the basket of peaches. He swiftly ran outside of the walls that closed off the palace grounds from the streets. The gates closed behind him, and he paced around yelling, "Peaches for sale! Peaches for sale! Ripe, tasty peaches for sale!"

Himiko truly laughed this time, Taroumaru standing uncertainly beside her.

"I'm coming back up now," the lord announced to Himiko from the streets and proceeded to walk to the gates.

The gates did not open.

"Guards! Open the gates and let me back in!" the lord ordered.

The burly guards laughed and one replied, "We do not take orders from beggars."

"I'm not a beggar! I am your lord and I command you to open these gates!" he screamed.

"You shut up and leave now," replied another guard tersely.

"I will have you beheaded for this! Let me back in and your punishment will not be as dire!"

"I warned you!" yelled the guard.

Soon after two guards went down, dragged the screaming man, and kicked him outside the city walls and forbade him to ever return.

Taroumaru was shocked at the turn of events and turned to Himiko, who thrust herself into his arms and wept in happiness at their reunion. Taroumaru put his arms around her and gently stroked her hair until she finally looked up and gave him a genuine smile.

Taroumaru became the ruler of the land, replacing Lord Ginro who became forgotten, and ruled gently and peacefully with Lady Himiko beside him for the rest of their days.

~The End~

Author's Notes:

This story is a retelling of a Japanese folktale set in the feudal times of Japan when there were many lords that ruled pieces of Japan. This is one of the lesser-known folktales. In stories such as these there is a moral to be found, most stories have clearer meanings and morals which I find difficult to find in this one.

Japanese women of that time were expected to be silent unless spoken to (at least proper ladies), to be demure, graceful and obey the demands of their husbands.

Arranged marriages of people that barely knew each other were common. In folktales such as this people were married with no explainable reason other than it is a story and that is how things were.

Japanese people are pretty conservative and in those times couples, whether they were wed or not, would not show physical displays of affection publicly. Small gestures and rare situations were allowed.

The staple foods of Japan are rice and fish, which has been changing in recent years as a result of exposure to the western culture.

In Japanese Folklore the raccoon, known as "tanuki" and also called raccoon dog, was known as a friendly trickster as opposed to the fox, which was known as a sneaky and unpleasant trickster.

Peaches in Japan are pink, not the yellow with ruddy pink of peaches I find here in the US.

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[1] This story is a retelling of a Japanese folktale set in the feudal times of Japan when there were many lords that ruled pieces of Japan. This is one of the lesser-known folktales. In stories such as these there is a moral to be found, most stories have clearer meanings and morals which I find difficult to find in this one.

[2] Japanese women of that time were expected to be silent unless spoken to (at least proper ladies), to be demure, graceful and obey the demands of their husbands.

[3] Arranged marriages of people that barely knew each other were common. In folktales such as this people were married with no explainable reason other than it is a story and that is how things were.

[4] The staple foods of Japan are rice and fish, which has been changing in recent years as a result of exposure to the western culture.

[5] In Japanese Folklore the raccoon, known as "tanuki" and also called raccoon dog, was known as a friendly trickster as opposed to the fox, which was known as a sneaky and unpleasant trickster.