LONG, long ago, when the tallest fir trees on the Hakoné mountains were no higher than a rice-stalk, there lived in that part of the range called Ashigara, a little ruddy boy, whom his mother had named Kintarō, or Golden Darling. He was not like other boys, for having no children to play with, he made companions of the wild animals of the forest.
He romped with the little bears, and often when the old she bear would come for her cubs to give them their supper and put them to bed, Kintarō would jump on her back and have a ride to her cave. He also put his arms around the neck of the deer, which were not afraid of him. He was prince of the forest, and the rabbits, wild boars, squirrels and martens, pheasants and hawks were his servants and messengers.
Although not much more than a fat baby, Kintarō wielded a big axe, and could chop a snake to pieces before he had time to wriggle.
Kintarō's father had been a brave soldier in Kiōto, who through the malice of enemies at court, had fallen into disgrace. He had loved a beautiful lady whom he married. When her husband died she fled eastward to the Ashigara mountains, and there in the lonely forests in which no human being except poor woodcutters ever came, her boy was born.
She lived in a cave, nourishing herself on roots and herbs. The woodcutters soon learned about the strange pair living wild but peacefully in the woods, though they did not dream of her noble rank. The boy was known among them as "Little Wonder," and the woman as "The old nurse of the mountain."
Thus, all alone, the little fellow grew up, exercising himself daily, so that even though a child he could easily wrestle with a bear. Among his retainers were the tengus, though they were often rebellious and disobedient, not liking to be governed by a boy.
One day, an old mother-tengu, who had always laughed at the idea of obeying a little dumpling of a fellow like Kintarō, flew up to her nest in a high fir tree. Kintarō watched to see where it was, and waited till she left it to go and seek for food. Then going up to the tree, he shook it with all his might, until the nest came tumbling down, and the two young squabs of tengus with it.
Now it happened that just at that time the great hero and imp-killer, Raikō, was marching through the mountains on his way to Kiōto. Seeing that the ruddy little fellow was no ordinary child, he found out the mother and heard her story. He then asked for the child and adopted him as his own.
So Kintarō went off with Raikō and grew up to be a brave soldier, and taking his father's name, he was known as Sakata Kintoki. His mother, however, remained in the mountains, and living to an extreme old age, was always known as "The old nurse of the mountains."
To this day, Kintaro is the hero of Japanese boys, and on their huge kites will usually be seen a picture of the little black-eyed ruddy boy of the mountains, with his axe, while around him are his wild playmates, and the young tengus rubbing their long noses, which were so nearly broken by their fall.