Long long ago, a woman and her two children in traveling outfits were walking along a country road.
They looked tired after a long trip.
Their destination was Tsukushi, (now in Fukuoka Prefecture) Kyusyu, where her husband and children’s father, Taira-no-Masauji, was relegated.
He had been a high rank official in Iwaki, Tohoku Province.
But twelve years ago, he was sent to Tsukushi on a false accusation.
His wife was worried about him as she had scarcely heard from him.
She finally decided to set out for Tsukushi to meet him with their 14-year-old daughter Anju and 12-year-old son Zushio.
Tsukushi was very far away.
She anticipated there would be many hardships ahead of them.
It became dark, and a chilly wind in autumn was blowing.
The mother was looking for lodgings for the night.
But there was no one to give them one-night stay because of the local law.
She told her children that they sleep under the bridge that night.
While taking a rest there, she saw an old man approaching to them, who said to her gently,
“If you sleep out at such a place, your children might catch a cold.
Why don’t you come and stay at my house for the night?”
He took them to his place and listened to her whole story that night while the children were fast asleep.
The man suggested to her,
“If you want to go to Kyushu, it’ll be safer and quicker to take a boat than a land rout.
Luckily, we have boats going there tomorrow morning.
I’ll make arrangements for you.”
When they arrived at the seaside the next morning, they saw two boats fastened to posts there.
Beside them, two boatmen were waiting for them.
One of the boatmen said to them,
“You, Ma’am, please get in this boat.
You, kids, get in the other one.”
At first the two boats made their way in parallel, but a little by little they began to go in different directions.
“Why on earth are the two boats separating?”
the mother was astounded and reprimanded the boatman.
“I’ve bought you from the old man,” grinning at her, he said.
She became half-crazed and cried her children’s names at the top of her voice.
they also raised their voice and waved their hands desperately only to miss their mother’s boat in the distance.
The poor children were sold to a man called Sansho Dayu in Tango, Kyoto Prefecture, who had a lot of other slaves working for him.
He studied the girl’s face and then boy’s, and said,
“Mm…you two are too young and look weak to manage the same work loads as adults do.
Let’s see…I’ll make the girl scoop salt water in the sea, and the boy, gather firewood in the mountain. Work hard!”
Since then, they had to wake up early in the morning and work hard all day as they were told.
“Zushio, be careful not to cut your fingers.”
“Anju, take care of yourself, too.”
They were concerned about each other when they parted for work every morning.
They never finished their painful days without talking about their parents.
One night, they were whispering with each other,
“It seems like Mother was sold and lives somewhere in the Island of Sado.
In the near future, we’ll run away from here and look for Mother,”
the girl said.
“By all means!”
the boy said.
Unfortunately, Saburo, the youngest son of Sansho Dayu, happened to pass by their hut and overheard their conversation.
Opening the door angrily, he said,
“You are planning to run away!
I’ll teach you a good lesson!”
saying so, he beat them with a stick on their bodies, faces, anywhere and everywhere.
The two collapsed and lost their sense due to the severe pains.
A while after the merciless man had gone, they came to themselves.
Anju took out a small Buddhist image from the bosom of her kimono and put her hands on the image.
Zushio also followed suit.
To their surprise, their terrible injuries and pains disappeared immediately.
One day in spring, the girl implored them desperately to work in the hill with her brother.
The very first day she’d gotten permission from them, she went to the hill with her brother for the first time.
But she wouldn’t gather any firewood.
Instead, she took him secretly to the top of the hill.
She pointed down at the road and said,
“Go straight along that road, and you’ll reach the Capital, where you might be able to get a key to find our parents.”
She hung her Buddhist image around his neck.
Zushio ran and ran for his life until he got to a big temple just before the sunset.
“I’ve escaped from ‘Sansyo Dayu’s place.
Please hide me from them,”
the boy said to the chief priest with joining his palms together.
The priest nodded his head with heartfelt emotion.
That night, Saburo and his men descended on the temple.
“Bring out the fugitive boy here at once! Or we’ll burn your temple!”
“What on earth are you talking about?
I’ve never seen such a boy,”
the chief priest answered calmly.
The other priest said,
“Oh, I saw a boy running southwards this evening.
He must be the one you are looking for.
I don’t think he is going so far.”
All the pursuers rushed the southwards.
The old priest shaved off all the hair of the boy and let him wear a black robe to be a monk, who succeeded in entering the Capital as a young monk.
He prayed at Kiyomizu temple to get him heard his parents news and slept for the night there.
The next morning, he heard someone calling him to wake him up.
A man in a nobleman’s outfit was standing in front of him.
“I’m the supreme minister and chancellor to the emperor named Morozane.
I’m confining myself here to pray for my sick daughter.
I heard the voice of Buddha in my dream last night.
It said that a young monk had a small Buddhist image.
It would cure my daughter of her illness.
You must be that monk.
If you don’t mind, would you lend me your Buddhist image?”
The young monk was willing to hand his image to Morozane.
To his great surprise, his daughter, on praying to the image, got better and better.
Morozane was pleased, thanked him a lot, and said,
“I’ll give you anything you want. Tell me what you really want?”
“I’m worried about my father. All I want is to know where my father is,”
Morozane made a quick investigation, and found that Zushio’s father ‘Masauji’, who had been sent to Tsukushi, was actually innocent.
But to the great regret, he was already dead.
Zushio grieved to hear the news.
Morozane said to him,
“From now on, think of me as your father. I’ll take good care of you.”
Several years later Zushio changed his name to Masamichi and became the lord of Tango.
No sooner had he took charge of the lord of Tango than he put Sansho Dayu and his sons into prison and set their captives free.
Sadly, he couldn’t find his sister among them.
He heard that the pursuers had found a pair of zori, Japanese rice straw sandals, left by the marsh under the hill when they were looking for the fugitive children that evening.
He crossed the sea to the Island of Sado to find his mother.
He had his men look for his mother.
But there was no good news reported.
Reluctantly he searched around for her by himself.
When walking along a path in the field, he heard a familiar voice chanting.
He saw a blind old woman in rag with a bamboo stick in her hand sitting in front of straw mats sweeping away sparrows which came to eat millet on them.
Her voice was so feeble that he hardly caught her at first, but gradually followed her.
I miss ‘Anju’. Come over here.
I miss ‘Zushio’. Come over here.
He gazed at the old woman, and rushed toward her.
“Mother!” he cried and threw himself into her breast.
He took out the Buddhist image and stroked his mother with it on her forehead.
Soon she opened her eyes slowly, and then opened them wider.
She looked straight at her child with her own eyes for the first time in many years!
” Zushio!” choking with tears, she cried.