Tsuru no Ongaeshi

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Tsuru no Ongaeshi (鶴の恩返し, lit. "Crane's Return of a Favor") is a story from Japanese folklore about a crane who returns a favor to a man. A variant of the story where a man marries the crane that returns the favor is known as Tsuru Nyōbō (鶴女房, "Crane Wife").

Crane's Return of a Favor[edit]

An elderly couple saves a crane caught in a trap. That night, a beautiful girl appears at the couple's house and asks to stay the night. Soon, she asks to be their daughter, takes care of them, and offers to weave cloth so that they may sell it for money at the market. She warns them not to look in on her as she is weaving, but they disobey her warning. When they look in on her weaving, they discover a crane plucking out its feathers to weave the cloth. She admits she was the crane they once saved, and had wished to take care of them to return the favor. She explains that she must leave now that her identity is revealed, so she transforms into a crane and flies away.

The Crane Wife[edit]

In The Crane Wife story, a man marries a woman who is in fact a crane disguised as a human. To make money the crane wife plucks her own feathers to weave silk brocade which the man sells, but she becomes increasingly ill as she does so. When the man discovers his wife's true identity and the nature of her illness, devastated by the truth he demands her to stop, she said she was doing it for love, for them. The man said that love exists without sacrifices but he was wrong. He who lives without sacrifices for someone else doesn't deserve to be with a crane.[1]

Ippontōchō-zu by Hara Zaichū

Related variations[edit]

In The Copper Pheasant Wife, the wife does not weave cloth but instead provides her husband a plume to feather an arrow shaft the husband is rewarded for. The wife is not looked in on by the husband like in The Crane Wife; instead like in Crane's Return of a Favor the pheasant wife leaves as soon as the favor is returned.

In The Bird Wife, it is an injured wild goose the man saves. In this story, the wife weaves without prompting from the husband. One day she disappears, and he finds her in a local pond. It is there she explains she was trying to repay his kindness, and asks him to use the money from selling the cloth to take care of their child before flying away.

In The Fox Wife, it is a fox that the man helps and who shows up on the man's doorstep to become his bride. In this tale the fox does not weave but uses her tail to help sweep the floors. Upon discovering his wife's identity, the husband drives her away.

In The Clam Wife A man finds a beautiful woman mysteriously appear at his doorway. They become married, and the wife cooks the husband a delicious bean soup each day. He peeks in on her cooking, and discovers that she is urinating clam juice into the soup, so he chases her away.

In The Fish Wife a fisherman releases fish that he does not need to eat back into the water because he does not have a greedy nature. A beautiful woman appears at the fisherman's door and begs to be his wife. The wife cooks the husband a bean soup that is so good he is suspicious of how she makes it. He spies on her while she is cooking, and discovers she urinates in the soup. Later at dinner he alludes to her cooking method. When the wife realizes he knows she says she must return to her former home, and bids the husband visit her at the pond the following day. When he does, she explains how she was a fish he saved and had wanted to repay the favor. She disappears into the water, leaving him a box of gold and silver.

In The Snake Wife a beautiful woman appears in a widower's doorway asking to stay the night. They become married, and the wife becomes pregnant. The wife warns the husband not to look in on the hut where she intends to have their child. He looks, and discovers a snake. The wife says that as the husband has seen her true form, she must leave. She ends up giving her child her two eyeballs for nourishment as she cannot be there to feed it. When the son grows of age he takes care of his blind mother.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

Film and television[edit]

Anime[edit]

Video games[edit]

  • Iroha from the Samurai Shodown video game series is loosely based on the "Crane Wife" version of the story, being a crane-turned-human who became a maidservant to an unseen "master", to repay him for the kindness of rescuing her from a hunter's trap. During one of her special attacks she hides behind a shoji while saying "Please don't look, no matter what", referencing a scene from the story.
  • The Grateful Crane from the videogame The Battle Cats is based on the crane of this folkloric tradition.

Music[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Elder, John, and Hertha Dawn. Wong. Family of Earth and Sky: Indigenous Tales from around the World. Beacon Press, 1994.
  2. ^ Mayer, Fanny Hagin. Ancient Tales in Modern Japan: an Anthology of Japanese Folk Tales. Indiana University Press, 1985.

External links[edit]