Japanese Buddhist Folktales
The Weasel Priest
Long ago, in Ryusenji, in the land of Dewa, there was a head priest
famous as a distinguished cleric. People from far away came and
gathered just to listen to the head priest's sermons.
One morning, as the head priest was performing his morning recitation,
a weasel stopped beneath the veranda and listened to the sutra.
Thereafter, every morning, when it was time for the recitation, that
weasel would show itself. The head priest, who was moved by this,
turned to the weasel and said, "I am impressed that, although you're
only an animal, your piety is no less than that of a human being. Let's
pray to the Buddha, so that you will be reborn as a human being.
Starting now, for twenty-one days, you should bring an oak leaf every
From the next morning, the head priest wrote scripture on the oak leaf
that the weasel brought and gave it back to him. After twenty-one days,
the weasel suddenly stopped appearing.
Several days later, the weasel was found dead on the oak leaves
arranged in the shape of a lotus-seat on the floor of the main hall.
The head priest, who pitied the weasel, performed a memorial service
with great solemnity.
Well, twenty-one days after that, during the night, the weasel appeared
by the side of the head priest's pillow and said: "Thanks to you, I was
able to be reborn as the grandson of Kihei in Hiruko Village. Please
receive him as your disciple."
The head priest immediately sent a messenger to Hiruko Village to check
on Kihei's grandson, and on the baby's chest and stomach were tufts of
weasel hair. That child, who was taken to the temple at age five, was
very intelligent. He excelled in scholarship and pursued the Buddha
Way. In time, he became the head priest of Kanmanji and served the
community. He was called "the weasel priest" and was long adored by
(A story from Akita Prefecture)
Nio and Gao
Once upon a time, there was a very strong man
named Nio living in this land. So great was his strength that his
reputation stretched across the sea to the distant land of Cathay.
In those days, there was in Cathay a very strong man named Gao. When
Gao heard about Nio, he could not stay put--he had to come to test his
strength against Nio's.
"Hey, Nio, I am Gao, the strongest man in Cathay. Let's have a contest
to see who is stronger." Nio's wife, who overheard Gao saying this, set
out some iron balls to test how strong he was. Then Gao hungrily
devoured them. Nio, who was watching him, said, "All right. I will take
Nio and Gao decided upon a sumo wrestling contest. Both of their faces
became red as they pushed each other with thuds and bangs that shook
the ground in a match that continued for days with neither side
winning. Each was surprised to find that in this world, there was
someone else as strong as himself.
And so they ended up becoming great friends. Still today, the two of
them stand guard at temple entrances. Since Gao ate the iron balls, his
mouth is open, and since Nio did not, his mouth is firmly shut.
(A story from Niigata Prefecture)
This article was originally published in the April-June 2007 issue of Dharma World.