Sannen Netaro (The Young Man Who Slept For Three Years)

Long, long ago, there lived an old man, an old woman, and their son. Now the son was of an age where he should be out working in the rice fields, but he did nothing but sleep from morning to night. He lay around the house like this for three years. People started calling him Netaro, the "Sleeping Boy."

His old mother was worried. "Get up!" she told him. "Go out and help in the fields! If you don't do any work, you'll never find anyone willing to marry you."

But a sleepy "mmm" was all that Netaro said.

The old man was angry with Netaro. He shouted at his son: "This is no time to sleep! We've had no rain this season, and the fields are looking terrible. Go fetch some water from the river and water the fields. If you don't help out a little, we'll have no rice to eat!"

Once again, though, "mmm" was all Netaro had to say.

One day, though, Netaro suddenly got out of bed. "I'm going up to the mountains," he told his parents. "I'll be back."

Later that day he came home with a large eagle. No one could imagine where or how he had caught the bird. "Don't let him escape," Netaro warned. He put the eagle in a cage.

"Now I'm going into town," he told his parents. "I'll be back."

He returned that evening with a lantern he had bought in town. "Hey, Netaro, what have you been up to?" his parents asked him.

But sure enough, Netaro only said one thing: "Mmm." He went right to sleep.

Now the house next to Netaro's belonged to a wealthy family. They had endless fields and rice paddies, and a huge storehouse filled to the brim with two or three years' worth of rice.

One night, as everyone else lay sleeping, Netaro woke up, got out of bed, and sneaked into the yard of the house next door. With him he had his eagle and the unlit lantern. Carrying them carefully, Netaro climbed the big pine tree growing in the yard. When he reached the top, he called out to the rich man: "Hey! Come out at once!"

The rich man was awakened by Netaro's shouts.

"I'm a tengu!" Netaro called out from the treetop. "I live deep in the mountains!"

A tengu is a long-nosed Japanese goblin. Nobody wants to get on a tengu's bad side. To avoid offending the tengu, the startled rich man quickly went outside. "A tengu?!" he said to himself. "Oh my!"

"Good evening, Mr. Tengu," the rich man said, crouching and bowing before the darkened tree. "What can I do for you?"

"I want you to give your only daughter's hand in marriage to Netaro, the young man next door."

"What?!" the rich man said in surprise. "Why would you want me to do that?"

"Don't ask why. Just hand her over by tomorrow."

"I know you're a powerful tengu," the rich man cried, "but I can't give my only daughter away just like that."

"Oh, I see," Netaro said. "You can't give your daughter to a lazy fellow like Netaro. All right. If that's the case, someday your family is going to become just as poor as his."

"Oh no!" said the rich man. "What'll I do? Let me think . . . Well . . . All right! Have it your way. I'll give up my daughter."

It was then that Netaro lit his lantern. He fastened the lantern to the eagle's talons and sent the eagle flying. Flapping its big wings, the eagle headed for the mountains. The rich man wept with fear, thinking the flying eagle with the lantern attached to its feet was a real tengu.

The next morning, the rich man's daughter showed up at Netaro's house to marry him. From that day onward, Netaro was a different man. He never again lay around the house, but worked as hard as he could.

First he started digging a ditch to bring water from the faraway river to the village. His bride helped him. Although the rich man's daughter had never worked in her life, she picked up a hoe and started digging. Finally, some years later, water flowed from the river into the village. The villagers never again had to worry about getting enough water for their fields.

The rich man was delighted, and gave all his rice paddies and fields to Netaro. He went around the village with a smile on his face, proudly telling anyone who cared to listen that Netaro was the reincarnation of a tengu.