Nazo no Tokkuri – The Enigmatic Sake Bottle

Translated from Edo Tokyo Kaii Hyakumonogatari

In July 28th, in the seventh year of Kaei (1854), a sake seller plied his trade between the Kamakura riverbanks and the lower valley. On that day, an old monk of about sixty years of age came to the sake dealer, bearing a small sake bottle that could hold no more than three or four swallows. “Please fill this with three masu (about three cups) of sake” the monk said. Now, there was absolutely no way three masu of sake would fit in the old monk’s bottle. The young sake seller was suspicious of some trick, but he did his job dutifuly and smoothly poured the three masu into the small bottle. Much to his surprise and wonder, the sake bottle held the volume.

The monk readily paid for three masu of sake, then went on his way. Overcome by the enigma of the sake bottle, the young sake seller silently followed the monk. He followed the monk to a temple in the Jinai area of Asakusa, and crouched by the Yadaijin statue near the front gate.

“Why have you followed me here?” the monk said in a reproachful.

“Because I have never seen such a mysterious thing in my life as your sake bottle.” the young sake seller answered.

“There is no mystery,” came the voice. “I am a servant of the goddess Kannon, and I have something to tell you. This year, at the closing of the month of July, a terrible illness will ravage the land. You will want to flee to safety, but instead you must make peony rice cakes and eat them for the rest of this month. Go home quickly and tell the people of your house!”

With that said, the monk vanished.

The young sake seller ran home as fast as he could and told his master what he had seen and heard. The people of the house did as the monk said and ate the peony cakes, and when the sickness came not one of them fell ill.

There is another example of this kind of story.

Tales are told of the tengu of Ohira mountain. This is one of them.

In Ohiru mountain, in the country of Dewa (Modern day Yamagata prefecture), an old man came into a sake dealers shop. The old man was carrying a sake bottle, but ordered only a single spoonful of sake. To the sake dealer’s surprise, the sake bottle was filled to the brim by that one spoon. He decided to follow the old man, and learn the secret behind his magical bottle.

Following him into the mountains, the old man showed his true form as the tengu of the mountain, and prophesied both a rich harvest and a terrible disease for the coming year. If the old man wanted to escape the ravages of disease, then he must take an image of the tengu to a temple and place it before for the gates and pray to it.

The old man did as he was told.

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