Kitchen boy


Kitchen boy

Grateful Crane

Long long ago, a baby was born as a son of a rich family.
He lived happily with his parents for some time.
But his mother became sick and died when he was only three years old.
His father remarried soon after that.
So the boy was taken care of by his stepmother.
Twelve years passed.
For the first time, the boy’s father decided that he wanted to do business with people in faraway places.
One day he told his wife and son that he was going to take a trip and would return in a year.
He also told them to help each other while he was gone.
As soon as he left home, however, the mother started treating her stepson like a servant.
She woke him up early in the morning and ordered coldly,
“Wake up, and go gather some firewood.”
Then she made him work with a male servant in the rice fields and vegetable gardens.
The boy never complained and worked hard all day long.
Soon he started to look very dirty.
His hair was like a nest and his clothes became worn and thin.
Six months after his father had left, his mother got a letter from her husband.
It said,
“I’ve successfully completed my business dealings.
Now I’m on my way back.
I’m looking forward to seeing you and my son.
I’d like both of you to meet at the port on the last day of this month.”

That morning the boy’s stepmother told him to go to the port because his father was coming home.
The boy felt very happy and said to her,
“He will be happy to see us. Let’s go to the port together.”
But she said,
“Hurry to the port by yourself.
I’ll come a little later.
You know I need to have my hair done.”

At the port, the boy waited for his father’s boat.
Soon he could see it in the distance sailing toward him.
When he saw his father among the people on the deck, he cried with a joy.
How long he had waited for him!
He really had many things to tell him, but all he said was,
“Welcome back, Father.”
His father was shocked to see him looking so shabby, and asked,
“Why are you so dirty, son? You look like a servant.”
The boy said,
“You told me to help my stepmother. So I worked hard for her every day, that’s why I look so shabby.”
“Oh, son. You’re a good boy. But where’s your mother?”
The boy answered,
“She told me she would come after she had her hair done. Could you wait for a while?”
They waited for her, but she didn’t show up.
While they were waiting, the stepmother was lying on her futon groaning in pain.
She’d tripped on a big stone just as she was about to leave, and hit her leg so hard that it broke.
Her husband was horrified when he returned and saw her lying on the futon and groaning.
“What’s up? Are you all right?” he said.
The evil woman screamed,
“Your son was the one who did this to me.
He turned into a monster.
He kicked me so hard that he broke my leg.
I don’t know why he did this to me.
Oh, God, I’m in so much pain.”

The man loved his wife as well as his son.
Listening to her story, he realized that things had gone badly when he was away.
He realized he would have to make a difficult choice.
He told his son,
“I’m sorry but I can’t let you stay here after you’ve done such a terrible thing.
You must leave right now. No,”
he said, raising his hand as the boy opened his mouth to speak,

“ Don’t say anything. I don’t want to hear your excuses ”
Although the father loved his son dearly, he felt he had to make that painful choice.
He hoped that his son would make the most of this chance to see the world.
He let him take the best horse in his stable, a beautiful saddle, and a nice kimono to wear.
Then he told the boy to make a start.

The boy jumped on the horse and rode off without saying good bye to his father, even though his heart was almost breaking with sadness.
He headed south.
Soon he came across a big river.
The horse stopped there and refused to move.
The boy looked at the river carefully and thought that surely his horse would be able to cross it.
He whipped him to make him ford the stream.
But to his surprise, the horse leaped across the river.
Later, when he came across a thick forest, he whipped his horse again, and said,
“Jump the hill,” the horse neighed and jumped over it at once.
Of course, he thought, it was his father’s favorite horse.
He thought about his father.
All his memories of his father were of his happy childhood.
How deeply his father had loved him!
That was the reason he gave him his favorite horse.
The thought wrung his heart.
His eyes filled with tears.
He thought his father might be worried about him.
Then the horse neighed.
He felt as if his old father was cheering him on.
He decided that whatever difficult experiences he might meet, he would overcome them, and would learn to stand on his own two feet.

He went on for a while, and he met an old man working in a field.
“Excuse me, but do you know anyone who could give me a job?”
he asked.

“Well, there’s no one except that landowner over there.
He’s a millionaire and has many people working for him.
But you have such a good horse and nice clothes.
You don’t look like someone who needs to work for a living,”
said the farmer.
“Look, I really need to get a job.
OK, I have an idea.
Will you exchange your clothes for mine?”
The man hesitated to take the boy’s gorgeous kimono.
So he said,
“I don’t need your clothes.
I can’t work in such nice clothes.
But if you really want mine, I’ll give them to you.”

“That’s very kind of you.
Well, I will borrow yours for a while if you don’t mind.
And I’m terribly sorry to cause you so much trouble, but you couldn’t give me a box big enough to hold my kimono and saddle?”
he said.
The farmer took the boy to his house and lent him a box and his working clothes.
The boy changed into the farmer’s clothes, put his own kimono and saddle in the box and set the horse free in a bamboo field.
He said to it,
“Stay here until I come back.”
Then he walked towards the biggest house he could see.
Before he got there he came across a man with a follower.
The boy thought he must be the one he wanted to meet, so he asked him in earnest,
“Could you give me a favor?
I’m looking for someone to give me a job.
If you allow me to do, I’ll work for you as hard as I could.”

The man gave a quick look at him, smiled and said,
“You can come with me.”

The next day the landowner told the boy to gather firewood.
He handed him a hatchet and said,
“Go and gather as much firewood as you can.”
The boy went to the landowner’s wood to gather firewood.
Way back when he was at his father’s house, his stepmother had made him go gather firewood.
He used to work with a chopper, so it was the first time he used a hatchet.
Moreover the hatchet was a bit too big for him to handle.
He soon gave up trying.
Then those days came to his mind.
His stepmother had made him work in the kitchen after he had finished working outside.
He’d soon found cooking interesting.
He’d never complained about cooking because he liked it.
“Yes, cooking is my favorite thing to do,”
he realized.
He thought he should work for his master as a cook.
He approached his master and said,
“I said I’d work for you as hard as I could.
That’s true.
Send me to your kitchen, and you’ll never regret taking me on.
I can serve you any dishes you like.”

The master was a little surprised.
He hadn’t had any servants talk to him like that before.
However, he accepted the boy’s proposal as he had an open mind.
When the boy looked around the kitchen, he asked,
“Would you mind lending me your men?
For one day only.
I’d like to have them build some kamados.”
(Kamado is a traditional Japanese stove, with oven-like structure, made of clay, stone, brick or cement.)

The millionaire agreed again to his request.
Several men started working under the boy’s command.
The boy showed them how to build his ideal kamados in the kitchen.
He checked all the pots and pans there, and figured out how big each kamado should be.
In a nutshell, seven new kamados were built, arranged so that the boy could work easily.
One was for the smallest pan, another for the biggest pot.

When the kamados were completed, his face was alight with joy.
He was full of enthusiasm for cooking.
He wanted to cook every meal not only for the master and his family but also all of the servants in the house.
He felt happy to see people empty all the dishes he served.
Someone said,
“It was the best meal I’ve ever had.”
Another one said,
“I am happy to know that I had the same meal as the millionaire had.”
Every day they could have wonderful meals so they worked harder than before for their master.
The millionaire was pleased to have him.
He said to the boy,
“You are a wonderful boy.
You can stay and work for me as long as you like.
Oh, by the way, I’m going to town to see a play with my daughter tomorrow.
So we’ll have to have lunch earlier than usual.”
After having lunch that day, the master said to the boy,
“I’m sure the play will please you too.
You can follow us and see it if you like.”

“Thank you, but today is the anniversary of my mother’s death who passed away when I was three.
I want to stay here and think of my mother,”
he said.
The master was so impressed and said,
“All right. Stay at home and remember your mother.”
After he saw his master off, he hurried to the old man’s house where he’d left his clothes and saddle.
He washed himself, changed into his nice clothes, called his horse back that was eating grass in the bamboo field.
He put the saddle on the horse, mounted it, gave it a strong whip, and cried,
“Fly to the theater in town!”
The horse jumped up into the sky and flew to the theater in town.
People looked at him up in the sky.
They thought that a God was coming down from heaven.
They put their hands together to pray.
The millionaire’s daughter, however, whispered to her father,
“It’s not God, but the kitchen-boy who works at your kitchen.”
“Don’t even try to say such a silly thing. Just pray,” said the confused father.
The daughter smiled and meekly put her hands together.

Before the play was over, the boy returned to the kitchen and pretended that he was dozing at the kitchen table in his working clothes.
Soon the master came home and said to him in an excited voice,
“You missed an amazing thing.
In front of the theater, we could see a God come down from the sky.
Everybody prayed to the God for one’s happiness.”

“Oh, really? I should have followed you,” said the boy.
A month later the man said to the boy again,
“I’ll have lunch earlier than usual again, as I’ll go see a play with my daughter.
Why don’t you follow us this time?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t.
Today is the anniversary of my grandfather’s death.
I have to stay here and pray for him,”
the boy answered.

After he saw his master off, he hurried to the old man’s house.
He washed himself, changed into his nice clothes, and called his horse back.
He put the saddle on the horse and just as he was about to mount the horse, he noticed that the master’s daughter was standing by him, smiling at him.
He soon realized that she knew what he had been doing there.
He grabbed her around the waist, lifted her onto the horse, and leapt on behind her.
He gave the horse a strong whip, and cried,
“Fly to the theater in town!”
The horse jumped up into the sky and flew to the theater.
People looked at them up in the sky.
They thought that this time the God and Goddess were coming down from heaven together.
They prayed to the God and Goddess for their happiness.
Before the play was over, the boy returned.
He pretended to be working in the kitchen in his working clothes.
Soon the master came home and said to him in an excited voice,
“Can you believe this?
The God and Goddess came down together this time.
You should really have followed us.”

While they were talking, they heard the millionaire’s daughter cry.
The father hurried to her room.
“I have a terrible stomachache,”
she said.
She looked pale.
Her father was worried about her, and asked,
“Do you want me to call a doctor?”

“No, I don’t need a doctor, but would you call me a miko, instead? ”
(Miko is an unmarried woman in the service of a shrine)
The father called two mikos to foresee her sickness and future.
One of them declared,
“She must be under a curse of her former life.”
The other one, however, said to the father differently,
“I should say this is not a curse but the—.
If she can find the right young man to be future husband, she will get better.”

So the father called all the men-servants to gather in his room.
But the boy slipped out of the kitchen and headed to the old man’s house.
The millionaire asked his daughter,
“I think it’s about time you found someone you like best.
I’ll be happy if you choose someone among the men sitting in front of you as your future husband.”
But the daughter, without a word, shook her head.
Just then they heard a horse neighing.
She thought the boy was coming to see her.
She opened the door for him, and over there they saw the boy in his nice kimono, riding on his horse.
She cried,
“Father. I believe he will be my ideal husband.”

Needless to say they soon had a gorgeous wedding ceremony.
Two months passed.
They really became perfect couple and lived happily with the millionaire for some time.
Then the husband started to think about his own father.
The couple talked about a visit to his parents and decided to visit them together.
He told his father-in-law about the trip and asked to take two-days off.

The couple were happily preparing for their trip.
But in the morning just when they were about to leave, the wife felt sick.
She felt like throwing up.
Her husband was very worried.
The doctor was called in.
He examined her carefully, and said to the husband,
“There’s nothing really wrong with your wife.
She is just having morning sickness.
She is now in her second month of pregnancy.”
It was a happy surprise for the couple.
Then the husband said to his wife,
“I wanted to visit my parents together to tell them how happy I’d been with you.
But in your present condition it’s too risky for you.
I think you should stay home this time.
Some day, we’ll be able to visit them with our baby.
How exciting it is just to think about having a baby of our own!”
Then the wife replied,
“Yes, you are absolutely right.
I’ll be waiting for you to come back home.
But I’m worried about your trip.
You don’t have much time as you only have two days’ leave.
I have a good idea.
You take a shortcut from here to your father’s place.”
Drawing a map, she explained the shortest way to him,
“Here’s a steep mountain.
You could go around it, but I think that would be a waste of time.
You have an excellent horse, so tell him to jump over it.
You’ll soon arrive at the foot of the mountain.
But there’s a little problem.
It’s around the middle of autumn now, and I’m sure you’ll see lots of grapes ripening by the road around there.
They’ll catch your eye because they look like Japanese wild grapes, but you mustn’t pick them nor eat them.
Be careful.
If you eat even one grape and it will make you fall asleep.
And you’ll stay sleeping for at least a week.
Please remember not to touch them——.
Well, say hello to your parents for me.
Have a nice trip.”

With some souvenirs, he left home alone.
He wasn’t very worried much about his wife now that he had learned she was pregnant.
On his way he obediently followed his wife’s suggestions until he saw the grapevines.
He jumped over the mountain on his horse, landed at the foot of it, and saw lots of grapes.
Alas! Just a glance at them made him completely forget his wife’s advice.
Instead, he recalled the grapes of his childhood, the ones he played outside all day long.

“How long I’ve missed the taste of those grapes!”
he said to himself.
From the back of his horse, he reached his hand to a bunch of grapes, picked it up, and put one of the grapes into his mouth.
The second he chewed a grape and swallowed its juice, he became sleepy.
He couldn’t keep his eyes open any more.
The horse, however, apparently seemed to know where to go.
It kept trotting with the young man on its back until his parents’ house came into its field of view.
The horse then stopped and neighed loudly.
The young man’s father had dreamed about his son only the previous night.
In his dream his son was on his way back home.
He wished that his dream would come true.
He was really looking forward to seeing him again.
Just then he heard a horse neigh outside.
“That must be my son,” he cried, rushing out of his house.
He saw the horse stopping in front of his house.
The horse neighed loudly again as if it wanted to tell him something important.
The father then noticed his son lying on its back just like a sick person.
“What on earth are you doing?
Are you sick, or were you attacked by someone?”
Although the panicky father rained questions on him, he said nothing in reply.
On the back of the horse, he was just sleeping deeply.
The father laid him down carefully on the futon in his old room and called his name as many times as he could.
But the sleeping son never woke up.

Meanwhile the young wife started worrying about him.
Four days had already passed.
She sat up all previous night to wait for her husband.
The next morning, the worried woman said to her father,
“I can guess what’s happening to him.
He must have eaten the poisonous grapes.
I heard that few people could resist the desire to taste the grapes.
Oh! I shouldn’t have told him about the shortcut.
Maybe he has fallen asleep somewhere along the way.”

As she began to feel a little better, she wanted to go looking for her missing husband.
But her father told her not to go because it was dangerous for a pregnant woman to travel alone.
Then the two heard a neigh outside.
“That’s his horse,”
she cried with joy, and opened the door.
But what they saw was only the horse with its saddle on its back.
She rushed out and cried.
“Where is my husband?”
Of course the horse didn’t answer, instead it pulled her sleeve tightly with his teeth as if it wanted her to ride on.
There was no time to get her father’s permission.
With a rush she started her trip like this.
When she reached the steep mountain, she cried,
“Jump over it.”
Soon she landed on the place where her husband had picked the bunch of grapes.
She avoided looking at the grapes by turning her neck to the other side of the road.
Hey! Can you believe this?
She spotted some special herbs there.
“It is said that at the foot of the mountain there are some rare herbs that are effective medicine against the poisonous grapes.
But so far no one has ever seen them.”
her grandmother once had told her.
You are asking why her eyes could catch such rare herbs right away?
It’s because she could think of nothing but her desire to save her husband.
After picking some herbs, she continued on her trip.
On her way, she kept carefully looking down at both sides of the road, but she couldn’t find him.
Then the horse stopped in front of a large house and neighed loudly.
As you see, it was the house that her husband was lying sleeping inside.
Of course she hadn’t known this.
But something forced her to approach the man who had just come out of the house.
Mustering up her courage, she asked him if he had happened to hear of her husband, and told him the reason why she’d come.
The man, who was actually the father of her husband, was surprised but very glad to meet her.
She was led to the room where the sleeping man was lying.
Looking at him, her eyes filled with tears.
She asked her father-in-law to lead her to the kitchen.
“All I can do now is to fix some herb tea, and have him take some,”
she said to herself.
She prayed that she could help her husband.

Luckily he gradually opened his eyes.
I don’t know whether the tea worked well, or it happened to be the time that the magic power of the grape disappeared.
Anyway he could see the people around him who were anxiously looking down at him, his wife, his father, and his stepmother with a baby boy.
It didn’t take much time for him to recall why he was lying there on the futon.
Everybody was relieved when he said,
“Thank you all for taking care of me.
I’m all right now,”
he said with rather a strong voice.

His stepmother let him look at the little boy and said,
“Look at this boy.
He is your baby brother.
At the time you were here I was pregnant, and because of morning sickness, I was always in a bad mood.
Maybe I was hard on you.
I have to apologize to you.”
His father told him how he had been worried about him since he’d left, and added, he felt happy to know that his son had gotten married to a very nice woman.
He strongly wished that the young couple would live with him, so he said,
“You can both stay here as long as you wish.”
The young man’s wife said,
“Thank you, I’d really like to.
But my father must be worried about us.
Please forgive us leaving.
We’ll visit you again, I promise.
Next time you’ll see your grandchild.”
The young man also apologized deeply that he couldn’t live with them, because his wife was an only child.
Luckily he could meet his baby brother for the first time, so he promised his father that he would help his young brother as much as he could.

To make the long story short, the two families have been getting along well with each other, especially the big brother who loved the baby brother and the younger one who respected the older one and helped his father’s work to become a merchant.
Soon the kitchen boy took over his father-in-law’s work as a landowner.
But he never forgot the hard times, so he kept working hard.
Whenever he had time to spare, he worked in the kitchen making delicious meals.
So not only his family members but also rest of the people around him loved him.
Of course people didn’t call him Kitchen boy any more.
They started to call him Millionaire Junior.
Every one lived happily ever after.

The end