|Japanese fairy tales
THE MAN WHO BECAME A SERPENT
There was once a hunter who shot a great bear, and the beast ran from him and entered a cave.
"I will go after it," the hunter said to himself, "for, since it is
wounded, it will be easy to kill it when it is trapped in the cave."
So he went into the cave, but could find no bear. He saw its tracks,
and they led down a dark passage which seemed to slope into the earth.
He followed this passage a long way, but found no bear. Suddenly he
came into an open space and saw before him a beautiful garden. It was
filled with wonderful trees such as he had never before seen, and some
of them bore strange fruits.
Now as there was no one to forbid, he plucked some berries and found
that they were good. But suddenly he was overcome with a strange
feeling, and gazing down upon himself, he saw that he was turned into a
horrible serpent. Struck with terror, he cried, "What fearful thing has
befallen me? I who was a man, ruler over all animals, even the
four-footed kings of the forest, am become the lowest of the low, even
a loathsome serpent." He hung his head in shame, and crawled back
through the cave, and lay down at the foot of a huge pine tree.
Wearied and distressed, at last he fell asleep and dreamed a dream. In
his dream a woman appeared to him, who looked kindly upon him and said,
"I feel sorrow for you, unhappy youth. I am the spirit of the pine
tree, and you may hear me speak when the wind sweeps from Fuji San and
whispers through my pines. This thing has happened to you because you
ate the fruit of Fengtu,1 of which no man may eat in safety. But you
can be saved if you will obey me. Climb to the very topmost branches of
this pine and hurl yourself down to earth. So you may return to your
The hunter awoke and, remembering his dream, said, "It would be better
to be dashed to pieces than to remain alive and be a loathsome serpent.
I will throw myself down from the tree and may the gods help me."
Gliding carefully up to the very topmost branch, he poised for a
moment, and then gave a mighty leap. He fell to the ground and for a
long time he knew no more.
When he returned to himself, he stood at the foot of the great pine
tree beside the crushed body of a huge serpent, and his own form was
once more the form of a man. Then was his heart full of a great
thanksgiving, and he straightway set up inao beneath the kindly pine