Japanese Folktales: The Tale of Rai-Taro, Son of Thunder

Presented below is a retelling of a story called The Good Thunder, from Japanese Fairy Tales by Grace James.

The Good Thunder

Some people say the gods know little of humans and care little. One of the gods heard this and was stung by the criticism.  He decided he would send his son to live with people to complete his education to learn what he could about humans. He would then return and teach the gods the knowledge he had acquired.

Raiden Sama, God of Thunder

The name of the god was Raiden Sama, God of Thunder and Lord of the Elements. He lived in his Castle of Cloud high in the Heavens with his son Rai Taro.  Sometimes they would walk the ramparts together looking down to see what the people were doing. At these times Rai-Taro liked to watch the children at play and was struck by the love their parents had for them.  Raiden also loved his son very much and he knew it was time for him to complete his education and he had settled upon a plan.

One day he called his son from his play to him walk the ramparts of the Castle of Cloud with him.   His son dutifully complied and hand in hand they went up to the battlements. Raiden led his son to the northern rampart and they stood looking down.  Far below they saw many fierce warriors with swords and spears following their lords into battle. There was much bloodshed and many were killed.

They walked to the eastern battlements and looked down and Rai Taro saw a fair princess in her bower.  All around were handmaidens wearing rose colored garments who made beautiful music for her and there were children playing with flowers making necklaces from them.

“Oh, see the children make flower necklaces!” exclaimed Rai Taro. It seemed idyllic but it was a life of idleness and frivolity.

They walked to the southern battlements and looked down and saw priests and holy men worshiping in a temple.  The air was heavy with incense and there were statues of ebony, ivory, diamond and jade while outside the temple the people were all terribly afraid.

They went to the western battlement and looked down.  Far down below they saw a poor peasant toiling in his field, tired and aching.  By his side his wife worked. He looked tired and weary but his poor wife looked even more worn out.  It was easy to see they were very poor and were dressed in ragged clothing and looked hungry.

“They look so tired, have they no children to help them?” asked Rai Taro.

“No,” replied his father, “they have no children.”

Raiden let Rai-Taro look all he wanted then said, “Well, my son, you have looked long and hard upon humans going about their business.  You are now old enough to begin your education on Earth and you will need a home there.  Therefore, from what you have seen, to whom would you have me send you to?”

“Must I go, father, is it necessary?” asked his son.

The Choice of Rao-Taro

“It is necessary, therefore choose,” said his father kindly, “and  when you return you will teach the gods about humans.”

“I will not go with the warriors and men of war.  I do not like fighting!”

“Oh, so you do not like fighting men.  Very well, will you choose to go to the fair princess?” asked his father, smiling.

“No, I will not go to live with the princess.  Life looks so easy and cosy yet somehow false.”

“Then perhaps the temple is for you?” asked his father.

“No, I do not want to shave my head and live with the priests, spending all day in prayer while the people outside are afraid.”

“But surely you do not want to go and live with the peasants.  It is a life of work and hardship and little food,” replied his father.

“They do not have children.  Maybe they will grow to love me and I will be a son to them and bring them happiness.”

“Ah!” said his father, pleased at his choice, “You have made a wise choice, my son.”

“Very well, father but how shall I go?”

“You  shall go in a way that behooves the son of the God of Thunder and the Elements,” replied his father.

Earth

The poor  peasant and his wife toiling  in their rice-field lived at the foot of  Hakusan, a mountain in the province of Ichizen.  They were struggling to make a living because everyday for weeks on end the sun had shone bright and hot and dried up their paddy field.  The next day the old man went alone to the field to examine the crop and was shocked at what he saw. All the young plants were shriveled and he cried, “Alas, what shall we do if the crop dies.  May the gods look down upon us and have mercy!”

Sitting  on the ground in despair, his weariness caused him to quickly fall asleep.  He awoke to find the sky had darkened even though it was only noon and the birds had stopped  singing and taken shelter in the trees.  
“At last, a storm, we shall have rain! Raiden is  out riding his black horse and beating his drum, we shall have rain,” he cried in delight.

The thunder rolled and the lightning flashed and the rain fell in torrents and the old man began to worry there was too much and said, “I give thanks for what you have sent honorable Raiden but we have sufficient for our needs now!”

As if in answer there was a mighty peel of thunder and a terrific flash as a ball of living fire fell to earth.  The poor terrified peasant threw himself on the ground wailing, “Mercy! Mercy! Mercy! Raiden – Kwannon please have mercy upon this sinful soul,” and  hid his face in his hands

At last the thunder stopped roaring and he stood up and  looked around. The ball of flames had gone but upon the earth there lay a baby boy, wet and clean in the rain.  The poor peasant ran to the boy and picking him up cradled him in his arms lovingly and said, “My Lady Kanzeon, Lady of Compassion you are merciful and I thank you with all my heart!” 

He lifted up his head and looked into the grey skies.  Rain fell into his eyes and down his cheeks like tears and the clouds parted revealing a beautiful blue sky.  All the flowers around him were revived by the cool rain and nodded as if in acknowledgement of the miracle. Carefully and gratefully he carried the boy home.  As he went in the door he cried out, “Wife come quick, I have brought you something!”

“Oh, and what could that be?” asked his wife

“Why, it is the son of the Thunder, Rai-Taro!” he answered as he carefully placed the child into his wife’s welcoming arms.

Life on Earth

The poor couple looked after Rai-Taro the best they could.  What they lacked in riches they made up for in love and dedication.  He grew up strong and tall and the happiest boy ever. He was the pride and joy of his foster-parents and a great favorite with all the neighbors.   From the age of ten he worked alongside his foster-father in the fields like a man and he was excellent at forecasting the weather which was always useful.

Often as they worked together, he would say, “Father, I think we shall have good weather,”  or, “I think there will be a storm tomorrow,” and in this way helped his father and his neighbors plan their work, for he was always right.  His arrival also seemed to bring good fortune for his foster-parents who began to prosper.

Every year the old couple celebrated their foster-son’s birthday on the anniversary of the day they found him.  On his eighteenth birthday his foster-parents went to great lengths to celebrate his birthday with a great feast.  They invited all their neighbors and there was plenty to eat and drink and everyone was happy all except for Rai-Taro who appeared sad.

His foster-mother called him to her and asked, “Why are you so glum on your birthday.  It is a day of great celebration. You are usually the happiest and gayest of people, are you ill?” 

Farewell

“Forgive me,” he said, “ I am unhappy because I know I must leave.”

“But why must you leave?” she asked confused.

“I have to – I just have to.  My time here is over and I must return from where I came.” said Rai-Taro sadly.

His father said, “Rai-Taro my son, you brought us good fortune.  Through you we have raised ourselves from where we were and you have given us your love.  All of this you have given us, what have we given to you?”

“I have learnt three important lessons from you.   The first is how to work. The second is how to suffer in dignity, the third is how to love unconditionally.  Therefore, I am now more learned than the Immortals and I thank you, but I must return to teach them.”

Then he embraced his foster-parents and took on the likeness of a white cloud and ascended into heaven until he reached the Castle of Cloud.  His father received him joyfully with open arms and the two stood upon the western battlements and looked down to earth.

On Earth, his foster-mother wept bitterly but her husband took her by the hand and said,

“Weep not,” he said, “we are grown old together, we do not have long.”

“True, my dear,” she said, “ but now Rai-Taro will never learn the lesson of death and now the gods will never know.”

The old man took his wife in his arms and he wept too.

© 10/07/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 10th, 2019 zteve t evans

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