Japanese tales : Yamamba
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Yamamba

Once upon a time there was a cowherd. One day, he planned to go to a very far village in the mountains, to sell some fish. He bundled some dried cod on the back of his cow and went away singing as he began his long journey. Snow flakes started to whirl as the young man walked when suddenly he heard somebody call, "Hey! Hey!!"
He was wondering who would be calling him in these lonely mountains, and looked to where the voice came from. He was amazed at what he saw : a frightening ogress coming toward him and calling him! She had a large mouth, split up to the ears, long silvery hair like barbed wire and was staring at the young man with glowing eyes. This awful-looking creature was called Yamamba. He got scared and threw her a fish.

Yamamba swallowed the fish in a gulp and demanded, "Give me another one!"
The young cowherd protested, "I can't give you another fish. I've got to go and sell them at the village." But then he looked at the scary red mouth of the creature and thought he had better give up.
Yamamba gulped down the second fish and again demanded, "One more."
The young man said again, "I can't. I've got to go and sell these fish."
"If you don't give me your fish," Yamamba said in a terrible voice, "I'm going to eat YOU!" Even more scared now, the cowherd threw her another fish. But then the ogress ordered him, "Give them ALL!" The poor cowherd, fearing for his life, gave her all the dried cod, which she swallowed in one gulp. Then she said, "The cow." And not even waiting for the answer, she seized the animal, put it into her large red mouth, and gulped it all down. The ogress who had eaten up all the fish as well as the cow now said, "I'm still a little bit hungry. I think I'm going to have you too!"

The young cowherd did not like at all the idea of being eaten by the ogress so he said, "I've been on a long journey with my cow. I'm so muddy! You can't eat me like this. I'm going to wash myself at the lake just round this mountain. Wait here." He pretended to go to the lake but instead scurried away as far as he could run.
The ogress waited for him, but seeing that he did not return realized that he had lied and escaped. Then she went in pursuit of him. He was hiding in some bushes and when he heard the creature approaching. He held his breath but she still saw him. Yet he managed to escape again. But even running as fast as he could, the ogress ran faster and kept calling after him, "Hey, hey! Wait a minute!"
Soon the young man saw a house and rushed inside. He hid himself in the attic, held his breath and waited. Yammaba rushed in the house after him. Having a look round she exclaimed, "Unbelievable! I'm back home!" and sat near the fire.

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The cowherd who was hiding in the attic, upon hearing those words started shaking with fear. He was at the creature's place! The ogress, in spite of having gobbled up the fish and the cow, was sore at not having been able to eat the young man too. Then she said aloud, "Hm, what shall I do? Go to bed at once or have some rice cakes?"
The cowherd, from the attic, whispered, "Rice cakes, rice cakes."
The ogress hearing those words said, "Ah, the god of fire wants some rice cakes" and put some to roast on the fire. She waited while the cakes where roasting, but fell asleep. A nice aroma was going up into the attic, and the young cowherd became very hungry. When he saw that the ogress was sleeping, he pricked the cakes one after the other with a long stick which was in the attic. Then he started eating them.

The ogress woke up at the sound of his biting the cakes and screamed, "Who's eating my rice cakes? It's a mouse, it must be a mouse... I'm so scared of mice! I've got to hide at once." and she looked around for a place to hide. "If I hide myself in the cauldron, I'll be safe. A mouse can't nibble a cast-iron cauldron." So she jumped into the cauldron and put the cover on.
Then the cowherd came down from the attic very carefully and put a big heavy stone on the lid of the cauldron. After that, he lit a fire underneath it. Inside, it was getting horribly hot and the ogress could not stand it anymore. She pushed off the cover screaming and jumped out. While she was screaming, the fish and the cow she had gobbled up poured out of her large red mouth split up to the ears. The creature, hurting with burns and mad with fear, fled. The cowherd then gathered the fish, bundled them together again on the back of the cow, and went on his way singing toward the far village ahead in the mountains.

Translated and adapted by Myriam Dartois


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