A LONG time ago there was an old priest who lived in the temple of Morinji in the province of Hitachi. He cooked his own rice, boiled his own tea, swept his own floor and lived frugally as an honest priest should do.
One day he was sitting near the square fire-place in the middle of the floor. A rope and chain to hold the pot and kettle hung down from the covered hole in the ceiling which did duty as a chimney. A pair of brass tongs was stuck in the ashes and the fire blazed merrily. At the side of the fire-place, on the floor, was a tray filled with tiny tea-cups, a pewter tea-caddy, a bamboo tea-stirrer, and a little dipper. The priest having finished sweeping the ashes off the edges of the hearth with a little whisk of hawk's feathers, was just about to put on the tea when "suzz," "suzz," sang the tea-kettle spout; and then "pattari"--"pattari" said the lid, as it flapped up and down, and the kettle swung backwards and forwards.
"What does this mean?" said the old bonze. "Naru hodo," said he, with a start as the spout of the kettle turned into a badger's nose with its big whiskers, while from the other side sprouted out a long bushy tail.
"Yohodo medzurashi," shouted the priest dropping the tea-caddy and spilling the green tea all over the matting as four hairy legs appeared under the kettle, and the strange compound, half badger and half kettle, jumped off the fire, and began running around the room. To the priest's horror it leaped on a shelf, puffed out its belly and began to beat a tune with its fore-paws as if it were a drum. The old bonze's pupils, hearing the racket rushed in, and after a lively chase, upsetting piles of books and breaking some of the tea-cups, secured the badger, and squeezed him in a keg used for storing the pickled radishes called daikon, (or Japanese sauer-kraut.) They fastened down the lid with a heavy stone. They were sure that the strong odor of the radishes would kill the beast, for no man could possibly survive such a smell, and it was not likely a badger could.
The next morning the tinker of the village called in and the priest told him about his strange visitor. Wishing to show him the animal, he cautiously lifted the lid of the cask, lest the badger, might after all, be still alive, in spite of the stench of the sour mess, when lo! there was nothing but the old iron tea-kettle. Fearing that the utensil might play the same prank again, the priest was glad to sell it to the tinker who bought the kettle for a few iron cash. He carried it to his junk shop, though he thought it felt unusually heavy.
The tinker went to bed as usual that night with his andon, or paper shaded lamp, just back of his head. About midnight, hearing a strange noise like the flapping up and down of an iron pot-lid, he sat up in bed, rubbed his eyes, and there was the iron pot covered with fur and sprouting out legs. In short, it was turning into a hairy beast. Going over to the recess and taking a fan from the rack, the badger climbed up on the frame of the lamp, and began to dance on its one hind leg, waving the fan with its fore-paw. It played many other tricks, until the man started up, and then the badger turned into a tea-kettle again.
"I declare," said the tinker as he woke up next morning, and talked the matter over with his wife. "I'll just 'raise a mountain'" (earn my fortune) on this kettle. It certainly is a very highly accomplished tea-kettle I'll call it the Bumbuku Chagama (The Tea-Kettle accomplished in literature and military art) and exhibit it to the public.
So the tinker hired a professional show-man for his business agent, and built a little theatre and stage. Then he gave an order to a friend of his, an artist, to paint scenery, with Fuji yama and cranes flying in the air, and a crimson sun shining through the bamboo, and a red moon rising over the waves, and golden clouds and tortoises, and the Sumiyoshi couple, and the grasshopper's picnic, and the Procession of Lord Long-legs, and such like. Then he stretched a tight rope of rice-straw across the stage, and the handbills being stuck up in all the barber shops in town, and wooden tickets branded with "Accomplished and Lucky Tea-Kettle Performance, Admit one,"--the show was opened. The house was full and the people came in parties bringing their tea-pots full of tea and picnic boxes full of rice and eggs, and dumplings, made of millet meal, sugared roast-pea cakes, and other refreshments; because they came to stay all day. Mothers brought their babies with them for the children enjoyed it most of all.
Then the tinker, dressed up in his wide ceremonial clothes, with a big fan in his hand, came out on the platform, made his bow and set the wonderful tea-kettle on the stage. Then at a wave of his fan, the kettle ran around on four legs, half badger and half iron, clanking its lid and wagging its tail. Next it turned into a badger, swelled out its body and beat a tune on it like a drum. It danced a jig on the tight rope, and walked the slack rope, holding a fan, or an umbrella in his paw, stood on his head, and finally at a flourish of his master's fan became a cold and rusty tea-kettle again. The audience were wild with delight, and as the fame of the wonderful tea-kettle spread, many people came from great distances.
Year after year the tinker exhibited the wonder until he grew immensely rich. Then he retired from the show business, and out of gratitude took the old kettle to the temple again and deposited it there as a precious relic. It was then named Bumbuku Dai Mio Jin (The Great Illustrious, Accomplished in Literature and the Military Art).