The Wise Old
by Yushiko Uchida
created by Linda Shaffer
Narrator 1 --- Narrator 2 --- Cruel lord --- Group of warriors
Old woman --- Farmer --- Lord Higa
Narrator 1 - Long ago in the wooded hills of Japan, a young farmer
and his aged mother lived in a village ruled by a cruel young
Cruel lord - Anyone over seventy is no longer useful and must be
taken into the mountains and left to die.
Narrator 2 - When the young farmer's mother reached the dreaded age,
he could not bear to think of what he must do.
Old woman - It is time now for you to take me into the mountains
Narrator 1 - So, early the next morning, the farmer lifted his mother
to his back and reluctantly set off up the steep mountain path. Soon
he heard his mother breaking off small twigs from the trees they
Grandmother - I'm marking the path for you, my son, so you will not
lose your way going home.
Narrator 2 - The young farmer could bear it no longer.
Farmer - Mother, I cannot leave you behind in the mountains. We are
going home together, and I will never, ever leave you.
Narrator 1 - And so, in the dark shadows of night, the farmer carried
his mother back home. He dug a deep cave beneath the kitchen. Two
years passed, and no one in the village knew of the farmer's
Narrator 2 - One day three fierce warriors in full armor galloped
into the small village like a sudden mountain storm.
Group of warriors - We come from the mighty Lord Higa to warn you.
When three suns have set and three moons have risen, he will come to
conquer your village.
Cruel lord - Please, I will do anything if you will spare me.
Group of warriors - Lord Higa knows no mercy, but he does respect a
clever mind. Solve the three impossible tasks written upon this
scroll and you and your village will be saved.
Narrator 1 - Then, tossing the scroll at the young lord, they
galloped off as quickly as they had come. The cruel lord opened up
the scroll and read it.
Cruel lord - First, make a coil of rope out of ashes. Second, run a
single thread through the length of a crooked log. Third, make a drum
that sounds without being beaten.
Narrator 2 - The young lord quickly gathered the six wisest people of
his village and ordered them to solve the impossible tasks. When
morning came the wisest people in the village had no answers. They
tried seeking help from the gods.
Wise old man 1 - Help us!
Narrator 1 - But the gods remained silent, so they went to the clever
badger of the forest, for they knew the animals are sometimes wiser
Wise old man 2 - Surely, you can help us.
Badger - (Shaking his head) As clever as I am, I see no way to solve
such impossible tasks as these.
Narrator 1 - The six wise people returned to the young lord without
Cruel lord - You are all stupid fools!
Narrator 2 - The cruel lord threw the wise men into his darkest
dungeon, and he posted a sign in the village square offering a bag of
gold to anyone who could help him.
Narrator 1 - The farmer hurried home.
Farmer - The wisest men in the village could not answer the 3
questions given. What are we to do? We will soon be conquered by yet
another cruel lord.
Old woman - Bring me a coil of rope, a crooked log with a hole
running through the length of it, and a small hand drum.
Narrator 2 - As soon as her son brought her the supplies she set to
work. First, she soaked the coil of rope in salt water and dried it
well. Then, setting a match to it, she let it burn. But it did not
crumble. It held its shape.
Old woman - For the rope of ash I will soak the coil of rope in salt
water and dry it well. Then I
will set a match to it and let it burn. This will help it hold its
shape. Next I will put a little honey at one end of the crooked log,
and at the other, I will placed an ant with a silk thread tied to
Narrator 1 - The farmer watched in amazement as the tiny ant wound
its way through the hole to get to the honey, taking the silk thread
with it. And the second task was done.
Old woman - Finally, I will opened one side of this small hand drum
and seal a bumblebee inside. As the bee beats itself against the
sides of the drum trying to escape, the drum will sound without being
beaten. And the third task will be done.
Narrator 2 - The lord was astonished when the farmer presented the
three completed tasks to the young lord.
Cruel lord - Surely a young man such as you could not be wiser than
the wisest people of our village. Tell me what person of wisdom
helped you solve these impossible tasks?
Narrator 1 - The young farmer could not lie.
Farmer - I have kept by mother hidden for the past two years it is
she who solved each of your tasks and saved our village from Lord
Narrator 2 - The farmer waited to be thrown into the dungeon for
disobeying the lord. But instead of being angry, the young lord was
silent and thoughtful.
Cruel lord - I have been wrong. Never again will I send our old
people into the mountains to die. Henceforth they will be treated
with respect and honor, and will share with us the wisdom of their
Narrator 1 - Whereupon the young lord freed everyone in his dungeon.
Next he summoned the old woman and gave her three bags of gold for
saving the village.
Narrator 2 - Finally he allowed the farmer to march with his finest
warriors to the Lord Higa's castle. The long procession wound slowly
over the mountain roads carrying its precious cargo. And it was the
young farmer who carried the lord's banner fluttering high in the
Narrator 1 - When they presented to Lord Higa the rope of ash and the
threaded log and the drum that sounded without being beaten, he
stroked his chin thoughtfully.
Lord Higa - I see there is much wisdom in your small village for you
have solved three truly impossible tasks. Go home and tell your lord
that his people deserve to live in peace.
Narrator 2 - From that day on, Lord Higa never threatened the small
village again. The villagers prospered, and the young farmer and his
mother lived in peace and plenty for all the days of their lives.