A tale of demons by well-known author of children’s literature, Miyahara Kōichirō. Translated by Emily Balistrieri.
By Miyahara Kōichirō
Translated by Emily Balistrieri
This is a story that happened a long, long time ago. Back then the Earth was still brand new and not only were there no humans, there were no birds or beasts, either. The only living things on Earth were demons.
All the demons had horribly long tails and would use them like humans would use a sword or a spear. They’d fight and war incessantly and since there was no end to it, the world was never at peace.
Even these nasty demons wanted to live amongst each other, so they found a decent spot with a big lake up on a certain mountain and built a city.
However, a big river flowed out of the lake and split the demon city right in half, so at some point the demons ended up divided into left bank dwellers and right bank dwellers. Of course, they started squabbling. Once that happened, reinforcements started showing up from who knows where, and pretty soon the fight grew bigger, finally turning into a war.
From then on it was non-stop fighting day and night, all year round. They fought using magic, always trying to think how best to conquer their enemies.
Black-hearted demon breath blocked out the sky like fog or clouds, hiding the beautiful light of the still young sun and plunging everything into a pre-enlightenment darkness. On top of that, their roars and growls sent tremors through the mountains and valleys, and the stomping of their feet was like a cross between thunder and an earthquake. It was absolutely dreadful.
The right bank demons hurled so many huge boulders it was like rain or hail, while the left bank demons spat flames like volcanoes. Both sides put all the magic they had into the war, but it was all in vain; casualties mounted, but a clear victor did not emerge.
It was at just this time that God decided the world was too dreary with nothing but demons, so he thought he would create birds, beasts, and then humans, with the idea of having them live there. First he planted grasses and trees. Their sprouts were just beginning to come up when the demons started their war, however, so God’s efforts were all for nought: the demons trampled and burned his plants.
However, amongst the demons there was one large one. He was not only large—he also knew the most magic and had once been one of God’s best helpers, so he could understand God’s will. As a result, he refused to get involved in anything so nonsensical as war, and sat on his rump smoking tobacco or whatnot, simply watching as the others fought for all they were worth.
But as the war worsened, his expression darkened like the sun being hidden by a cloud and he said to himself, This is just not sensible. If we keep this big war up, our demon races will kill each other off and we’ll all go extinct. In fact, God may be silently allowing this civil war with that very intention. After all, he said nothing about the way we trampled the trees and grasses he planted. He may very well be letting us fight and destroy ourselves so he can hand the world over to the humans he plans to make. If that’s the case, we should stop this war as soon as possible!
So the great demon shouted, “Everyone quiet down! Stop this war!” His voice was loud, so loud it was like a thousand temple bells ringing at once, and it echoed from mountain to mountain and valley to valley.
A truce was arranged. Next he had to hold a peace conference so that demons would not fight amongst themselves anymore.
The great demon gave a grand speech on the day of the conference.
“My fellow demons, I suspect God has resolved to create creatures called humans in this world, give them everything in it, and make them its masters. The tree and grass sprouts you trampled beneath your feet were meant for them. God does not like us in this world and intends to drive us off somewhere far, far away. Why? Because we’d be in the humans’ way. God loves humans deeply and intends to fill their souls up nine tenths with his spirit. In other words, they will be practically the same as him; only one tenth of their souls will be left to distinguish them from God. However, if humans act according to God’s will, they can receive the remaining tenth and be the same as Him. That would be trouble. We wouldn’t be welcome in this world any longer. Luckily, we demons can use that remaining tenth to get our foot in the door and rot their souls entirely, but if we keep up this in-fighting, we’ll end up destroying ourselves instead. From now on, let’s join forces and corrupt the humans!”
But the other demons were not as clever as the great demon, so they didn’t listen to what had to say.
“Get a load of that half-baked theory he’s spouting!”
“Yeah, he’s a wily one. Who knows what he’s scheming?”
“He’s probably talking so high and mighty ’cause he thinks he can be king.”
“That’s gotta be it!”
“Let’s get him!”
Once the shout had gone up, two, then three, and finally all the demons ganged up and attacked the great demon. The great demon managed to flee to the lakeshore, but was about to be overtaken. He was fretting about what to do when he remembered his powerful tail. I can use this, he thought and slapped it against the ground, which then split. The water from the lake began rushing into the crack, forming a huge river. The faster of the demons chasing him were able to leap over the chasm, but the slower ones fell in and were either washed away or drowned. It was chaos.
However, there were many demons who managed to leap over the chasm, and, as you might guess, they continued the chase.
When he was about to be overtaken again, the great demon slapped his tail on the ground a second time, with all his might. The ground split again and water from the lake flowed in. This crack was wider than the one before, so many more demons fell in.
But the great demon was still outnumbered and they kept chasing after him, so very soon he was nearly overtaken again. This was finally so distressing that he couldn’t take any more, so he frantically whapped his tail against the ground over and over as hard as he could. This formed numerous large rivers and the lake water went roaring down them, fast as an arrow flies. Most of the demons chasing him fell in and were washed out to sea.
The great demon was exhausted after using up so much energy, so he practically collapsed by the roadside and tried to fall asleep. Just then, he realized with a start that his powerful tail was gone.
I was hitting the ground so hard, it must have come off. He searched the area, but it must have fallen into a river and been washed away. There was no trace of it.
Well this is quite a shock. How can I stop the other demons without my tail?
With this worry still on his mind he hopped over all the big rivers he had made and returned home.
There was actually no longer any danger of being attacked by other demons. Most of his enemies had drowned in the rivers. He told the few survivors to never fight amongst themselves, and that they should instead put their effort into rotting the souls of the humans who would soon be made. This time everyone understood and no one resisted—in fact, they all became the great demon’s servants. In this way, his descendants grew in number and flourished across the land. However, from then on none of them had tails, which made them look an awful lot like the humans.
For this reason, some foolish humans make friends with demons and become corrupted. Some humans, however, are clever enough to see the tail that isn’t there and know a demon’s true form no matter how well disguised it is.
English translation © 2015 Emily Balistrieri. All rights reserved.