“The Monkey and the Crab”: Our re-telling of the popular Japanese legend

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“The Monkey and the Crab”: Our re-telling of the popular Japanese legend

 

Inspired by our Featured Work of Art for May 2024, here is an abridged telling of the popular Japanese legend, “The Monkey and the Crab.” As always with our blogs and stories, you can click on any of the images to take a closer look.

 

 

 

There was once a Monkey and a Crab who lived near each other on the seashore. The Monkey lived in a fine Maple tree whilst the Crab resided in a hole beneath a rock.

One day they met upon the seashore. The Monkey was crouched on the sand eating a ripe juicy Persimmon. The Crab was carrying a piece of Sembei (A salty flavoured rice biscuit).

Monkey was greedy and although he had the Persimmon, he also wanted Crab’s Sembei, so he hatched a sneaky plan.

He began to shudder and stick his tongue out as Crab walked by, “ Why, friend Monkey why do you shudder and stick your tongue out so?’” asked Crab.

‘Ahh Little One in Armour!’ exclaimed Monkey ‘This persimmon is so unripe and sour!’

“Hmm” said Crab ‘I think you better have my piece of Sembei. The saltyness will take the unpleasant taste away. All I ask in return is a seed from your Persimmon.”

Monkey was delighted his plan worked and gave away the Persimmon pip.

Crab sat quite still and looked at the Persimmon pip and wondered whether to crack it and eat the inner or to plant it.

She thought to herself, “If I plant it, it might grow into a tree and then I will have more seeds to crack AND more fruit to eat.’

So, she scratched a little hole and planted it not far from the Maple tree where Monkey lived.

 

 

The next day, the seed had grown into a tall Persimmon tree, and the day after it was heavy with the sweet sticky fruit.

Crab was very pleased, but realised she could not climb the tree to reach the fruit, so she crawled the short distance to Monkey’s tree.

“Friend Monkey, please may you help me to pick the persimmons from the tree which grew from the seed you gave me?” she asked.

“Of course Little One in Armour!” answered Monkey, once again thinking he could trick Crab.

“For each persimmon you gather you might keep one for yourself.” offered Crab kindly.

Monkey leapt to the tree in a single bound and began cramming the fruit into his face. Meanwhile, slow little Crab made her way to the foot of the tree. She called out to Monkey asking for her share of the fruit, but Monkey merely laughed, still stuffing his face while throwing the rest of the fruit into the door of his house to enjoy later.

 

 

Crab called out again pleading even for just one persimmon as it was her tree. Monkey though started to pelt her with fruit. It did not hurt Crab as she was protected by her fine suit of armour, however the soft fruit burst on her back and the juice trickled into the gaps in her shell and pincers, gumming them together.

She soon became stuck fast and unable to move. Monkey made no attempt to help and once he had emptied the tree of its fruit, he shut himself in his house, leaving  poor little Crab on the beach as the sky grew dark. Finally, as it neared Midnight, light rain began to fall and washed the juice from Crab’s armour-plated joints. Crab realised she had been tricked and crawled home, feeling sad.

 

 

In the morning, she visited the other crabs who lived along the shore and together they decided to teach Monkey a lesson.

That evening, Crab crawled to the foot of Monkey’s tree, “Friend Monkey, are you at home?” she called.

“Is that Little One in Armour?” answered Monkey.

“Yes it is She who wears heavy armour.” replied Crab.

“It did not protect you much yesterday when you were so sticky with persimmon juice!” mocked Monkey, “What do you want anyway?” he asked.

“Well, Friend Monkey, I have in my house a large box of Sembei, I cannot carry it in my pincers, for it is far too large. If you were to bring to my house just one large red Persimmon that you picked yesterday, I will give you as many Sembei as you can carry.” replied crafty Crab.

Monkey though this was too good to be true. He had eaten so many Persimmons that he longed for something salty and the crispy Sembei would do nicely. Monkey thought he must not waste one of the better, larger Persimmon and so selected a medium sized one to take to Crabs house.

 

 

 

 

When he arrived, Crab introduced Monkey to all the other Crabs. They were all sat around the Hibachi (a charcoal brazier). Crabs don’t feel the cold like monkeys do and so the vain Monkey thought it had been lit in his honour. Little did he know it was part of the planned revenge of the Crabs.

Monkey was impatient for Sembei and presented the average sized Persimmon to Crab.

“Here is the largest and best Persimmon from the tree,” he lied, “Now where is this box of sembei?!’

He stretched his hands out over the hot fire in a most impatient manner.

This was all part of the plan. Crab quickly picked up a pair of Chopsticks and stirred up the ash in the burner. Hidden among the embers there was an egg. Crab broke the shell and it exploded all over Monkeys hands!

How he jumped and yelled and waived his hands around!

Another crab had been holding a bee. It now released the bee and it buzzed around Monkey stinging him on the forehead!

Monkey turned to the door to escape and slipped on a strip of seaweed that Crab had placed there earlier in the day. As he did this, a large mortar (a stone bowl) fell of a shelf and onto him. It was only then, lying trapped and helpless, that Monkey apologised for stealing the Persimmon and promised he would become a better, kinder friend.

Crab and her friends felt sorry for the pathetic Monkey, and working together they lifted the heavy mortar from him. Kind Crab even gave Monkey several pieces of Sembei to take home with him. Never again did the Monkey tease his kindly Little Friend in Armour.

For many more years, they lived in their houses on that beach, sharing the ripe Persimmons and Sembei that came their way.

 

 

This is an abridged telling of the tale, taken from “Japanese Fairy Tales”, by Juliet Piggot.

 

Juliet Piggot

Juliet Piggot spent her first birthday on board a ship bound for Japan, where much of her childhood was spent. Her Grandfather was legal advisor to Prince Ito in the late 1880’s, when Prince Ito was Prime Minister of Japan. Her Father was language Officer during the Russo-Japanese War and later chairman of the Japan Society which her Grandfather founded. After serving in the Women’s Royal Navy during WW2, Juliet Piggot went into the publishing industry. She revisited Japan as a guest of the Japanese government, and wrote many fairy tale collections inspired by the stories she heard during her childhood in Japan.

 

We hoped you enjoyed this story. You can read over 100 articles inspired by our collection of Chinese and Japanese Fine Art and Antiques by clicking here.

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