The Little Hare of Oki,
A Japanese Fairy Tale
RETOLD BY B. M. BURRELL
Alice lived in New York, but she still had the
nurse who had taken care of her when she was
a tiny baby in far-away Japan. Nurse wore the
picturesque kimono and obi of her native land,
and looked so different from other people that
friends often wondered how Alice could feel at
home with her. Love, however, is the same the
world over, and no one loved Alice better than
did her little Japanese nurse.
When Papa and Mama were at dinner, and
Alice and Nurse had the library all to themselves
till bedtime, the little girl would often pull two
chairs up to the fire and say coaxingly:
“There is just time for a story!” And Nurse
would smile her funny Japanese smile and begin:
“Long, long ago, when the great Japanese gods
ruled from high heaven,—”
This was the beginning Alice liked best, for it
meant that a fairy tale would follow. And Nurse
would perhaps continue:
“—a little hare lived on the island of Oki. It
was a beautiful island, but the hare was not satisfied:
he wished to get to the mainland. He did
not know how to manage this; but one day he
thought of a plan. Hopping down to the shore,
he waited till a crocodile came out to sun himself,
then opened a conversation with him.
“‘There are, I suppose, many crocodiles in the
sea,’ he began.
“‘Many, many!’ the crocodile answered.
“‘Not so many, however, as there are hares
on the island of Oki,’ returned the little hare.
“‘The crocodiles in the sea outnumber the hares
of Oki as the drops in the sea outnumber the
trees of the island,’ declared the crocodile, in his
“‘It does not seem right for a little bit of a
creature like myself to differ with your lordship,’
said the hare, politely, ‘but I should like to see
a proof of your statement.’
“‘How can we prove it?’ the crocodile questioned.
“‘You can call all your friends and place them
from here to the mainland, each with his nose on
the tail of the neighbor before him; then I can
easily jump from one to the other, counting as I
“The crocodile agreed to this plan, thinking it
a good one. ‘But how can we count the hares?’
“‘That we will decide after I have numbered
the crocodiles,’ the hare suggested.
“The crocodile was satisfied, and bade the hare
come to the same place next morning to do the
counting. Of course the little animal was on
hand bright and early.
“There stretched an unbroken line of crocodiles,
a floating bridge to the mainland!
“The little hare lost no time hopping across it,
you may be sure. As he reached the last crocodile
and prepared to jump to shore, his heart was
so full of pride at the success of his ruse that he
could not resist crying aloud:
“‘How I have fooled you big creatures! I
wished for a bridge to the mainland, and you
have served my need!’ Then he jumped.
“The last crocodile opened his wide jaws and
closed them again with a snap. The hare was
too quick to be caught, but the monster’s teeth
touched him and tore off most of his fur! As the
poor thing limped away, a crocodile called after
“‘You see what happens when you trifle with
creatures stronger than yourself!’
“The little hare did not know much, but he felt
that he was learning. He had no heart to explore
the beauties of the mainland now, but crawled
under a bush by the roadside and wished that
some one would tell him how to cure his wounds.
“After some time he heard the noise of many
people on the road. He crept out to see what
was coming, and beheld a crowd of young men,
carrying burdens as if they were on a journey.
They were all tall and handsome, and wore beautiful
clothes fit for princes.
“One of them spied the little hare and cried:
‘Well, friend, why do you look so sad?’
“The hare, proud of being called ‘friend’ by
this fine gentleman, told how he had deceived the
crocodiles. The men laughed loudly, and one of
them said: ‘Since you are so clever, it is strange
that you do not know the best way to cure your
wounds. You should bathe in the salt sea, and
then climb a hill so that the Wind Goddess can
blow upon you with her cool breath.’
the princess and the hare
“The little hare thanked the strangers for their
advice, and then asked them where they were
journeying. They replied that they were eighty-one
princes, all wishing to marry the princess
of that country. She was very rich, and the
responsibility of managing her wealth and kingdom
was too much for her; so she had given
notice that she desired to marry a wise and noble
prince whom she could trust to rule for her.
“‘So wealth and power do not always bring
content?’ the hare questioned.
“‘They would content us!’ the eighty princes
answered. (The eighty-first was not present.
He was of a kindly and gentle disposition, which
caused his brothers to laugh at and impose upon
him. To-day they had given him most of the
luggage to carry, so he could not walk as fast as
they.) As they started on the way, one of the
princes called to the hare: ‘Good-by! And don’t
forget to bathe your wounds in the salt sea!’
And with loud laughter they continued their
“The little hare did not give himself time to
forget. He hurried to the shore and let the waves
roll over him, but instead of making him feel
better, the biting salt water only increased his
“‘I must hurry to the Wind Goddess,’ the
poor hare thought.
“He climbed the high hill with difficulty and lay
down on the top, hoping for relief from his suffering.
But the stiff grass pricked his wounds,
and the biting wind caused them to throb more
painfully. At last he realized that the cruel
princes had deceived him, and he crawled back to
his bush by the roadside, where he lay with closed
“A gentle voice roused him. ‘Who has wounded
you, little hare?’ it asked.
the good-natured prince and the princess
“The little hare looked up and saw a beautiful
youth standing beside him. His experience with
men made him think that it would be best to fly
from the stranger; but the young man’s kind
glance conquered his fear, and he answered: ‘I
left the island of Oki to see the wonders of the
mainland, and I have fared badly from the exchange.’
Then he told once more how he had left
the island, and also about the bad advice the
eighty princes had given him.
“The young man sighed. ‘They used you ill,
little creature,’ he said. ‘You learned that it is
foolish to meddle with beings stronger than yourself;
now you see how wicked it is to torment
those weaker. My brother princes should have
told you to bathe in the fresh water of the river
and to lie on the soft rushes. Now, good-by, little
friend. May good luck attend you!’ And he
walked quietly away, bending beneath the large
burden he carried.
“The little hare knew that the stranger was the
eighty-first of the princes, and so for a time,
he feared to follow his advice. But he was in
such pain that he decided to go to the river,
which flowed like a silver ribbon through the
fields toward the ocean. Into the cool water he
plunged and immediately felt better, as the sand
and bitter salt of the sea were washed from his
wounds. Then he took a nap on the soft rushes.
“When he awoke he no longer was in pain, so
he was filled with gratitude toward the young
prince who had given him such kind and wise
advice. He sat up, feeling quite strong again,
and tried to think of a way in which he could
repay his benefactor. In the distance he saw the
roofs of the princess’s palace rising among the
trees which surrounded it. This gave him an
idea, and he lost no time in carrying it out.
“Across the fields he hopped toward the palace,
never stopping till he reached the garden wall.
He crept in under the high gate, and there stood
the princess under a cherry-tree covered with
blossoms. The little hare went up to her and
“‘Gracious Princess, I bring to you advice, if
you will accept it from so insignificant a person
“‘Speak, little hare,’ the beautiful princess answered,
for she knew that the best things are
often found in unexpected places, and things are
not always what they seem to be.
“‘Eighty princes are coming to-day as suitors
for your hand. They are dressed in rich and
beautiful robes, and their faces are gay and smiling;
but all that is only to hide the cruelty of
their hearts. Following them is a young man
who is as wise as he is kind and gentle. Turn
the eighty from your gate, but honor the youngest
suitor as greater than they.’
“‘How do you know all this?’ the princess
“So the little hare told his story for the third
time, speaking so earnestly that the princess
could not fail to be impressed by it. She thanked
him for his advice, and after giving him some
tender leaves to eat, prepared to receive the
eighty-one brothers. They came a few minutes
later, resplendent in the magnificent clothes they
had put on in the princess’s honor. Indeed, they
all looked so handsome that she found it hard to
believe the story of their cruelty. While they
were talking of their journey to her kingdom, however,
some of the princes told how they had made
sport of a little hare too stupid to know that salt
was not the best thing for open wounds, and she
noticed that the youngest brother was the only
one who did not enjoy the story. At this, rage
filled her gentle heart.
“‘Turn out the eighty princes!’ she cried to
her attendants; ‘no one who is cruel to so small a
creature as a little hare is fit to rule over a kingdom.
But with you,’ she added, turning to the
youngest prince, ‘will I share my throne, for you
are a wise and merciful man.’
“You may be sure the youngest prince was
happy to hear that, for, after once seeing the
beautiful princess, the thought of parting from
her was like lead in his breast.
“So the cruel brothers were drummed out of
the palace with shouts of scorn; but the gentle
prince and princess went into the garden to thank
the little hare. They could not find him, however,
search as they would; for as soon as he
learned of the success of his plan, he had hopped
away to see the world, wiser for his day’s experiences.”
“Is that all?” Alice asked.
“That is all,” Nurse answered. “And now it
is time for you to go to bed.”