Two Frogs - Japanese Folktale

Once upon a time in the country of Japan there lived two frogs, one of whom made his home in a ditch near the town of Osaka, on the sea coast, while the other dwelt in a clear little stream which ran through the city of Kyoto. At such a great distance apart, they had never even heard of each other; but, funnily enough, the idea came into both their heads at once that they should like to see a little of the world, and the frog who lived at Kyoto wanted to visit Osaka, and the frog who lived at Osaka wished to go to Kyoto, where the great Mikado had his palace.

So one fine morning in the spring they both set out along the road that led from Kyoto to Osaka, one from one end and the other from the other. The journey was more tiring than they expected, for they did not know much about traveling, and halfway between the two towns there arose a mountain which had to be climbed. It took them a long time and a great many hops to reach the top, but there they were at last, and what was the surprise of each to see another frog before him!

They looked at each other for a moment without speaking, and then fell into conversation, explaining the cause of their meeting so far from their homes. It was delightful to find that they both felt the same wish–to learn a little more of their native country–and as there was no sort of hurry they stretched themselves out in a cool, damp place, and agreed that they would have a good rest before they parted to go their ways.

“What a pity we are not bigger,” said the Osaka frog; “for then we could see both towns from here, and tell if it is worth our while going on.”

“Oh, that is easily managed,” returned the Kyoto frog. “We have only got to stand up on our hind legs, and hold onto each other, and then we can each look at the town he is traveling to.”

This idea pleased the Osaka frog so much that he at once jumped up and put his front paws on the shoulder of his friend, who had risen also. There they both stood, stretching themselves as high as they could, and holding each other tightly, so that they might not fall down. The Kyoto frog turned his nose towards Osaka, and the Osaka frog turned his nose towards Kyoto; but the foolish things forgot that when they stood up their great eyes lay in the backs of their heads, and that though their noses might point to the places to which they wanted to go, their eyes beheld the places from which they had come.

“Dear me!” cried the Osaka frog, “Kyoto is exactly like Osaka. It is certainly not worth such a long journey. I shall go home!”

“If I had had any idea that Osaka was only a copy of Kyoto I should never have traveled all this way,” exclaimed the frog from Kyoto, and as he spoke he took his hands from his friend’s shoulders, and they both fell down on the grass. Then they took a polite farewell of each other, and set off for home again, and to the end of their lives they believed that Osaka and Kyoto, which are as different to look at as two towns can be, were as alike as two peas.

Japanese Frog FairytaleIn this story, two silly frogs are discontent with their hometowns of Osaka and Kyoto. They meet each other on mountain and decide to help each other see their destinations. Being silly little frogs, they mistakenly stood up so they can only see where they came from. The Osaka frog faced Kyoto, but he could only see Osaka. The Kyoto frog did the same. The silly frogs mistakenly believed the towns were exactly the same.

The story has several lessons. First, it is easy to be mistaken about something. What is reality isn’t always what we see or think we see. In Buddhism there is a saying about mistaking a rope for a snake. Next, it illustrates the differences between the two cities. Osaka has a long history of being a hub port for trade. It was also the capital city various times during the Asuka and Nara periods of Japanese history. Being a major port city, Osaka was an important commercial center.

Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years. The city was founded as the capital during the 700s. I have to note that Tokyo (Edo) was the defacto capital of Japan during much of imperial history. Kyoto was the home of the imperial family; Edo was home of the Shogun. Japanese politics are complex.

In any case, this folktale points at how people are mistaken to think the economic center of Japan (Osaka) and the imperial/cultural center of Japan (Kyoto) are the same.

Finally, the tale speaks about our adage “the grass is not always greener.” Each frog sets off thinking their destination will be better than their hometowns. This mistaken idea leads the frogs to be disappointed when they see their “destinations” on the mountain. The story warns us about how expectations and our easily mistaken senses can lead us astray.

References

Andrew Lang, The Violet Fairy Book (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1901), pp. 125-126.

Kyoto. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyoto

Tokyo. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo

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