The Hare of Inaba
Long ago in the land of Inaba there lived a beautiful princess renowned for her kindheartedness and happy nature. As is the way, word soon travelled of beautiful princess to a far-off land.
This land of Inaba was the residence of eighty royal princes, demi-gods, who spent most of the day fighting and arguing with each other and boasting of their mighty deeds or else picking on their youngest brother Onamushi.
When the news arrived about the princess, all the brothers declared that they were the ones who would win her heart and marry her. Turning to their youngest brother they declared that seeing as he was the runt there would be no chance of him winning the heart of the princess so instead he was tasked with carrying all the baggage of the elder brothers as they set off on their journey.
It was not long before Onamushi started to lag behind. The eighty brothers marched on, frequently quarreling and boasting of how they would be the one to marry the Princess.
Meanwhile, on the island of Oki just off the mainland of Inaba, there was another who longed to travel to Inaba. Every day a white furred hare sat and looked over to the mainland from his little island. He wished he could find a way over there but there were two major obstacles; first he couldn’t swim, second the waters between his island and that of Inaba were full of sharks.
The hare considered himself very clever and he devised a plan to get off the island and to have some fun at the sharks’ expense. One day as a shark swam by the hare called out.
“Hey, you there. Everyday I see you sharks swimming by but I can never quite work out how many of you there are. I suspect that there are more hares living on this island than there are sharks in the sea but I can’t keep a track of you. I would like to know which of out two clans is the greatest in number.”
Now the shark became interested in this, as he was certain that the sharks would easily outnumber the hares and didn’t want the shark clan to be beaten in size by the puny hares. “Okay, how can we go about this?”
“Well,” said the hare, “I’ve got an idea. Go and get your fellow sharks and line them up side by side between this island and the mainland. I’ll then hop on your backs and count you as I go along. Then you can count the hares on the Island.”
The shark agreed to this, counting the hares would be easy they spent all day eating grass and not moving. So, the sharks did as were asked.
The white hare bounced on their backs calling out the number on each one. He began to feel very proud of his cunning and couldn’t help himself from mocking the sharks as he was about to bounce on the last shark. “Ha-ha I’ve tricked you. You stupid sharks, all I wanted to do was to get to the mainland. I don’t care how many of you there are.”
Now the thing about sharks is they can be quick to anger and don’t like being made fun of. The last shark in the line quickly leapt up and caught the hare just as it was leaping off biting off the hare luxurious coat and leaving the animal cover with cuts and bruises.
“Let that be a lesson to you for being so tricksy,” said the shark and swam back to the sea.
The hare was left in an awful state, the cuts were deep and he’d lost all the lovely white fur that once covered his body.
It was at this point that the hare was discovered by the eighty brothers. By now they’d grown tired of the endless travelling and were bored.
The hare was doubled up in pain and he called out to the princes, “please noble sirs, I’m suffering greatly. Can you help me tend my wounds?”
The eighty brothers sought to have some fun at the hare’s expense. “Of course little brother. We will help. First you should bathe in the sea to cleanse your skin, and then climb to the top of the nearest hill and let the breeze dry you.”
The hare did as he was advised, the sea water stung him terribly and he cried out in pain. He then climbed up the hill and let the wind dry him. This only made things worse. The salt dried on his skin and cause more cracks and blister to appears. The hare was now in a much worse state than before.
Laughing at their own callousness and cruelty the eighty brothers carried on their travels leaving the poor hare behind, now thoroughly wretched.
It was only a little while later that the eighty-first brother came along and found the hare curled up and crying with pain.
Again the hare called for help, “please good sir can you help me I am in terrible pain and I’ve lost all my lovely white fur.”
Onimushi bent down to the hare and asked how he had come to be in such a state. The hare told him about tricking the sharks and about his treatment by the eighty brothers. Onimushi was gentle and said, ”well I hope you have learned a lesson about tricking others, but if you wish to get better then bathe in this small pond and after that roll in some white cattails. This will help you restore your white coat.”
“Wait! This isn’t going to hurt, is it?” said the hare.
“No, I promise you, you will be fine.” The kind tones of the younger brother convinced the hare and he did as he was advised. The pond washed away the stinging salt and after rolling in so cattails the hare was amazed to find that his white fur had been restore.
The hare was overjoyed at this and thanked the young brother. “I will tell you this,” said the hare,” due to your kindness, wisdom and helpfulness the princess will choose you as her husband.”
With this the hare hopped away. When the young prince arrived at the princess’s palace the other eighty had already been rebuffed, however the princess saw the kindness and care in the young prince and declared that she would marry him.