The Heavy Basket
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The Heavy Basket, 1892
Ink on Paper
14 9/16 in. x 10 in. (369.89 mm x 254 mm)
This image illustrates a scene from Shitakiri suzume or The Tongue-Cut Sparrow, a folk tale about the consequences of our treatment of animals. It tells of a kind old man called Nakaseji and his neighbor, a mean old woman called Ara. Nakaseji loved and cared for a sparrow called Bidori, feeding it and showing it only kindness, while Ara was cruel to it, even cutting out the bird’s tongue to stop it eating her food. The sparrow could no longer stay with Nakaseji but out of gratitude for his kindness offered him one of two baskets as a gift. He chose the smaller, lighter basket; it was full of gold and jewels. His greedy neighbor Ara ordered Bidori to give her the same choice, and she chose the heavy basket. When she opened it, she was horrified to find it filled with an assortment of ghouls and monsters.
- Meher McArthur, January 7, 2021
Note: XXXVI (p.90-91) of "Yoshitoshi's Thirty-six Ghosts." A greedy woman chooses the big basket: A sparrow was fed by a kindly old man but an old woman cut the bird's tongue. When the bird left two baskets, the old man modestly took the smaller one which was filled with gold. The greedy woman opened the big basket, and the sparrow had its revenge.
On mat, in pencil: Marer 419, exhib. 11/93, Thirty-six Ghost Stories. Description on verso of mat. Artist's seal: Yoshitoshi. Signed: Yoshitoshi. Carver: Chokuzan to. Engraver: (unknown). Printed: 1891.
Colored ink woodblock on paper; oban.
Meiji period Japanese color woodblock print with an image of monsters coming out of a basket, threatening an old man.
An old man and an old woman were neighbors. Every evening the old man fed a sparrow that visited him. When he returned home one day he was disturbed not to see the sparrow and asked his neighbor whether she had seen it. Yes, she said, the sparrow had eaten some rice paste she had made and to teach it a lesson she had caught it and cut its tongue with a pair of scissors.
The old man was most upset and searched the forest calling the bird, whose name was Bidori. The sparrow came, introduced the old man to his family, and spread a feast before him. When they had eaten, the bird showed him two hampers, one large and one small, and told him to choose one as a present. With typical humility, the old man chose the small one. Returning home he found it full of gold, silk, and jewels.
Seeing this, the neighbor was filled with envy and hurried off into the forest looking for Bidori. When she found him, she pretended to be overjoyed to see him again. The sparrow was polite and invited her to his home. He gave her the choice of two baskets. She chose the large heavy one and with difficulty hauled it home. When she greedily opened the lid, out jumped a host of ghosts and goblins who quickly devoured her.
The creatures in the print are imaginatively depicted - even the hamper has eyes. The wrinkled old woman with her shriveled breasts vainly attempts to ward off their attack. The central demon, with its three eyes, long neck, and lolling tongue, takes the form traditionally given to Mitsume Kozo, the chief demon sent by the monstrous ground spider to harass Raiko's delirious sleep (32).
The story, with its obvious moral, occurs in many different forms in many cultures. In another Japanese version, the old man is kind to a sparrow he finds injured and is rewarded; seeing this, his neighbor wounds a sparrow, then hypocricitcally nurses it back to health. The reward sometimes takes the form of a grain of rice which when planted gives a fruitful harvest for the old man but a crop of stinging insects for the wicked neighbor.
As with the story of Kiyohime (11) and Toki Motosada (12), a similar version of this print appears in Yoshitoshi's series One Hundred Ghost Stories of Japan and China, designed nearly thirty years before.
Stevenson, John. Thirty-Six Ghosts. Hong Kong: Blue Tiger Books, 1992.
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