There was once a good and dutiful youth named Urishima who worked hard and long every day to support his parents, who were old and quite helpless, but work as he might, he was only able to supply them with the poorest sort of food and clothing.
His mother was quite content with this and was always cheerful, but his father did nothing but complain from morning till night, and was always reproaching his son because he could not do better for him.
“I do not know how it is,” he would say. “When I was young, I was able to supply my parents with everything they wished, and here my son gives me nothing but the poorest sort of food, and not even a cup of sâki. If I could only have a cup of good sâki now and then, I would be content. I think it is very hard that we have to live so miserably. I would never have allowed my father to go without his cup of sâki, however poor I was.”
When the father talked in this way, Urishima felt very sad. He would go out and work harder than ever, but for all his work he could earn but a small sum each day.
One time the son went into the forest to cut wood. He went to a place where he had often gone before. He gathered together a great load of wood, as much as he could possibly carry, and bound it around with a cord. The day was hot and the sweat ran down his forehead. He was thirsty, too, but he knew there was no spring or stream anywhere near.
He stopped to rest and wipe the sweat from his forehead before starting homeward with his load. He wiped away the sweat with his sleeve. Suddenly, as he stood there, he heard the sound of a waterfall close by. Urishima was very much surprised. Often as he had been there, he had never heard or seen any water anywhere near.
He went a little farther into the wood and came to a high heap of rocks. They had always been dry before, but now a stream of shining water poured down over them. It seemed like magic.
However, magic or not, the water looked cool and clear. So he took a cup he had brought with him and filled it and lifted it to his lips to drink. What was his amazement to find the cup was filled, not with water at all, but with the most delicious sâki. Urishima could hardly believe it, but it was so. Filling the cup to the brim, he hastened home with it to his father.
When he entered the house, his father looked at him with a frown and immediately began to complain. “Why have you left your work so early? Where is the wood you were to have brought home? How can you expect to succeed in the world if you only work an hour or so and then come home to rest?”
“My father, taste this sâki,” cried Urishima, “and tell me whether it is not good.”
“Sâki!” cried the old man. “What do you mean? Where have you been able to get any sâki?”
He took the cup from his son’s hands and set it to his lips. He tasted and looked surprised. He tasted again, smacking his lips. Then his face beamed with delight. “My dear son,” cried he, “where did you get this? Never before in my life have I tasted such delicious sâki. I do not believe even the Emperor himself has better.”
Urishima told his father the whole story. The old man found it hard to believe. “You have always been a truthful lad,” said he, “and yet I can hardly think this thing is possible! If, however, it is really so, it is nothing less than a miracle.”
“It is indeed the truth I have told you,” answered his son, “though I myself find it hard to believe.”
The old man continued to sip the sâki. While there was still quite a quantity left in the cup a neighbor came in, and the old man invited him to taste it.
The neighbor tasted and was delighted with it. “Where did you get this?” he asked. “Was it a present from some great nobleman? I could not buy any such in the shops.”
The old man repeated to the neighbor the story that Urishima had told him.
“This is a strange story,” said the man. He turned to Urishima and questioned him closely.
The boy repeated the story exactly as he had told it before, and as it had happened. The neighbor became very thoughtful, and soon after he went away.
A little later another neighbor came in and heard the story and tasted the sâki, and then another and another. Before long, the story spread through the village, and any one who could make any excuse came in to taste the sâki and question Urishima. By evening the sâki was all gone, and the last of the people who came in could only smell the empty cup and judge by that of how very good the sâki must have been.
The next morning the old man aroused Urishima very early. “My son,” said he, “take this pitcher, the largest we have in the house, and go out to the waterfall and fill it with sâki. We will have a great many visitors to-day, and I would feel ashamed if we were not able to offer each one of them a drink.”
Urishima arose, dressed himself, and took the pitcher, and hastened away to the forest. It was so early that the village appeared to be sleeping as he went through it, but as he approached the waterfall he saw that some one was there before him. It was the neighbor who had been the first to taste the sâki. He had just arrived at the waterfall, and he had brought with him a pitcher even larger than the one Urishima carried. Before he could fill it, another neighbor came hastening through the forest, and then another and another and still more. They all carried pitchers and pots and buckets, and anything they had that would hold the most.
Urishima hid behind the rocks to look and listen.
The first neighbors who arrived looked rather ashamed as they saw each other.
“Well,” said the one who had come first, “I see we are here on the same errand. And why should we not have some of the sâki as well as the old man? Urishima does not own the waterfall.”
“That is true,” said another.
And — “True! True!” cried the others.
One of the last to come, a bustling and lively little man, hastened forward and would have filled his pitcher at once, but the others withheld him. “It is not your turn,” they cried. “You came last, and yet you expect to drink first.”
“But look! your pitcher is a great deal larger than mine, and so is his, and his,” — and the little neighbor pointed to others of the villagers. “If you fill all those large pitchers first there may be nothing left for us who only expect to take a little.”
The men began to argue and dispute among themselves, but at last it was decided that the neighbor who had come first should fill his pitcher first, and then the others, according to the order in which they had come.
The first comer now stepped briskly forward to the waterfall.
He filled his pitcher, and lifting it, he took a deep drink from it. At once a look of surprise and then of disappointment and then of anger appeared upon his face. He spat out a mouthful on the ground.
“What is the matter?” asked the neighbors who were watching him. “Is not the sâki good?”
“Sâki! This is not sâki.”
“Not sâki! What is it, then?”
“Water! What else should one expect to get from a waterfall?”
“But Urishima told us —”
“That Urishima is a rascal. If we had not all been simpletons we would not have believed him. And yet he told his tale so seriously any one might have been deceived.”
“You mean it is only water?”
“Not sâki at all?”
The other villagers now made haste to fill their pitchers at the waterfall, but when they drank they found that not any one of them had anything but water in his pitcher, and not very good water at that.
They were furious. “He has deceived us!” they cried. “He has made a mock of us. No doubt he is comfortably in bed at this very moment and laughing at us for our pains.”
This thought made them so angry that they began to think how they could punish him. “Let us go and get him and give him a good beating. No, let us duck him. Yes, we will drag him here to the waterfall and duck him. He shall see that this is not so fine a joke as he thought. We will half drown him in his ‘sâki.’”
Urishima, hearing them as he stood behind the rocks, was terrified. He was afraid to stay where he was, and walking very softly, he tried to make off through the forest. He would have done better to have stayed hidden, for suddenly one of the neighbors caught sight of him, and raised a shout. “There he goes! There he goes, the sâki drinker. Catch him! Duck him! Throw him into his own waterfall!”
The men ran after the boy and surrounded him and dragged him back to the waterfall.
“Indeed, indeed, I did not deceive you,” cried Urishima. He was trembling all over, and half weeping. “It was here I filled my cup — at this very waterfall — and it was sâki and not water that I drew from it, as you yourselves can testify.”
“Very well,” said the first neighbor. “If you did it once, you can do it again. Fill your pitcher from the waterfall. If sâki flows into it, well and good; but if water, then you shall be punished as you deserve.”
Trembling, Urishima filled his pitcher as they bade him and handed it to the neighbor. The man lifted it up and drank from it. A look of wonder came over his face. “The boy spoke the truth,” he cried. “It is indeed sâki, and that of the best.”
One after another the neighbors drank from the boy’s pitcher and were convinced it was indeed full of sâki.
But only Urishima was able to obtain that drink from the waterfall. When the others tried again, their pitchers still only filled with water. Nor was Urishima himself able to fill their pitchers with sâki for them. It was only in his own pitcher that the water became that most delicious drink.
The neighbors now looked upon the good son with the greatest respect. They went home with him to his father and recounted to the old man all that had happened. They also told him he had a very wonderful son and ought to prize him as he deserved.
After that Urishima lived on quietly in the village as before, though there was much talk about his wondrous power. He could draw a pitcher full of sâki from the waterfall every day, but only once a day could he do this. If he filled the pitcher more than once, he obtained only water. In time the rumors of his wonderworking power came to the ears of the Emperor himself. One day a great train of magnificently dressed courtiers and noblemen appeared in the little village and stopped before the house where Urishima lived. In the midst of them rode no less a person than the Emperor himself. He commanded the boy to show them the way to the waterfall and to draw a cup of sâki for the Emperor to taste.
This the lad did, and when the Emperor tasted the sâki and found all he had heard was true, he was filled with wonder and admiration. He took Urishima home with him to his palace and made him a great nobleman, and kept him always close to his own person, and from then on Urishima lived beloved and honored by all, and his old father and mother never had a wish that he was not able to gratify.