The Girl with a Bowl on her Head

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Japanese girl with bowl on head in farm

It's only natural for parents to worry, and sometimes they worry a little too much. Once, a girl was beautiful - and her parents worried that she was too pretty. They were so concerned that they sent her out into the world with a bowl over her head. Poor girl! How could she find a job? How could she find love? When she had a bowl over her head? People were laughing at her. Even the fairies of the wood thought she was funny. Finally, a kind storyteller and a kind son of a wealthy farmer come into her life. But would she ever take the bowl off her head? That's the question?

We think all ages will enjoy this funny, romantic, and only slightly silly story from Japan. And in case you are wondering, the Japanese words at the start are simply 1, 2, 3.

Our sources for the story and the picture are The Wooden Bowl Japanese Fairy Tale Series, No. 16 and Japanese Fairy Tales, by Grace James. The story was adapted by Bertie for Storynory and read by Jana. The music is Japanese Souvenir by DeKibo licenced from Premium Beat.

We are delighted to dedicate this story to Cora and Margo who support Storynory on Patreon.

Listen out for Cora and Margo's story at the end of the episode!

This is Jana, and I’m here with a traditional story from Japan that is romantic, fun, and only slightly silly. It’s a story that anyone of any age can enjoy! We’ve adapted it for Stornory to give it a touch of our own flavour.

Read by Jana
Adapted by Bertie

And I’m delighted to dedicate this story to Cora and Margo who live in Tennessee and whose family kindly supports Storynory on Patreon.

This story is about a girl who was painfully shy. Her shyness was all the more surprising because the gods had blessed her with attractive looks. She had a beautiful face, long dark hair, and large, bashful brown eyes. Perhaps her shyness came from her parents, who were both natural-born worriers.

As if they did not have enough real problems to worry about, they fretted that their daughter was TOO beautiful!!

"Too much of a good thing," said the father to the mother, "is actually a bad thing. Good fortune only makes other people jealous. Heaven knows, our daughter is so pretty that even the gods might envy her face!"

"Husband, you are too right!" agreed the mother. "I foresee that our daughter's beauty will be her downfall. A young man will take one glance at her face and want to marry her for all the wrong reasons! When her beauty fades, so will his love for her. A man should choose a woman for her heart, not just her looks.”

But there was little chance of the girl meeting any boy, good or bad. Their cottage was in the woods, away from other people. Her parents chose to live in solitude because they thought that, generally speaking, people were bad.

The parents were so worried about the girl's good looks (and a thousand other matters) that they didn't notice that they were getting poorer and poorer until it was almost too late.

One day, the mother woke up to the sad truth of their poverty. So, she called her daughter and said:

"Your father and I are growing old, and we are practically penniless. Of course, we can survive off the vegetables from the garden, but this is no life for a young girl. The time has come to send you out to the city of Kyoto to find work! It will be horrible, and you will have to work long boring hours for little pay, but at least you will be able to afford some new stockings, and perhaps you might have a few pennies left over to send to your poor parents."

"But, but," stuttered the father, "we can't send our little girl out into the world. Her beauty will get her into no end of trouble! I hear the most terrible things about the fair city of Kyoto."

The mother tutted and fretted because she felt that her husband's fears were correct. Then, at last, she came up with a solution. She took a large wooden rice bowl and placed it on her daughter's lovely head. The bowl was like a hat, only much heavier, and it came down over the girl's eyes and nose.

"There," said the mother. "This bowl solves all your problems. Nobody will notice your unfortunate beauty with this over your head!"

"But mother," said the poor girl, "I can't see where I am going."

"Why on earth do you want to see the world?" asked the mother. "I’ve seen it, and I can tell you, you’re not missing much. It's far more critical to watch where you are putting your feet, or else you might trip or step in something nasty. If you absolutely must see further ahead, you'll have to raise your chin and take a quick peek at the world. But I'm afraid that all you will see is ugliness and rude behaviour of all kinds."

"But Mama!..." cried the daughter.

"No, But Mama! You must promise me never to take the bowl off your head until you marry an honest man?”

"But what man will want to marry me if I have a bowl on my head?” asked the daughter in despair.

"I don’t know the answer to that, but you will figure out something. Now, do you promise me faithfully that you will not take the bowl off until then?"

As the girl was very dutiful to her parents, she promised her mother that she would not take the wooden rice bowl off her head until the time was right. And so, wearing this strange garment, she bowed to her parents and wished them goodbye.

Before she could reach the big wide world, she had to pass through an enchanted part of the wood. As she went on her way, watching her steps, she did not notice the fairy children running between the trees. The magical creatures giggled at the strange sight of a girl with a bowl on her head.

"Poor thing, shall we help her?" asked one of the fairy children, "after all, we have magic, and we can help or hinder anyone we want to."

"No, no, let's have some fun with this girl. We can make the bowl stick on her head so it won’t come off at all!" said a bad fairy with a cruel laugh.
"Well, alright,” said a nice fairy, “but she has a good heart, so we should make sure everything works out for her in the end."

Perhaps it was because the bowl came over her ears, but the girl heard none of this magical chatter about her fate. She pressed on through the wood until she reached the road that led to the fair city of Kyoto. Now people started to notice her.. Some women putting out washing waved their arms and called out: "Maiden, why do you hide your face? Is it hideous?" Some children ran after her, jumping up and trying to flick the bowl from her head, but she kept walking, and the bowl stayed firmly in place because the bad fairy had stuck it there. Now and then, she stopped at a big house or at a farm to ask for work, but nobody wanted to employ the oddly dressed creature. Eventually, she sat down on a grassy bank and began to weep. A kind-hearted story-teller came along the road and saw her crying - to tell you the truth, he only noticed tears on her chin because that was all he could see of her face. When he asked her why she was so sad, she replied: "Because I am poor and hungry and my mother told me that I must wear this wooden bowl on my head. I look so strange that nobody will give me any work to earn a little money. "

"There, there," said the storyteller. And he began to improvise a verse.

The wild cherry blooms
A cloud threatens doom
Hark, hear the rain drops
The wild cherry flops
The world’s a sad place
When she hides her sweet face
But listen to what I say
The cloud will blow away
The sun shall shine
And the cherry will be just fine!

"Now, if I say so myself, isn't that a fine ditty I just made up!" exclaimed the storyteller..

The girl smiled faintly under the wooden rice bowl. The storyteller went on, "I'd better tell it again soon before I forgets how it goes. Tell you what, I'll pop over to that big old house where some wealthy farmers live and let them hear my latest composition.”

And so the storyteller strode across the road to the big farmhouse. As he was such a pleasant-looking fellow, the folks invited him in and listened to his tale. "What do your words mean?" asked the master of the house.

"Well, it means," said the storyteller, "That there's an honest and hungry young girl weeping by the roadside. And I’m willing to bet that her face, if we could only glimpse it, is as pretty as a wild cherry. The thing is, I can't be sure because her mother has made her wear a wooden bowl over her head. The bowl reminds me of a dark cloud that is raining tears. The bowl is the cause of all her problems, but she has promised her mother that she won't take it off until the time is right. If you people are as good-hearted as you seem, will you give her a job?"

"We might well," said the wealthy farmer. "We need willing young people to collect the harvest, with or without bowls on their heads."

And thanks to the help of the storyteller, the girl found work swinging a sickle in the fields. All the time, she kept the bowl on her head as she laboured. When the harvest was over, the farmer invited her to come into the house. There was plenty for her to do because the farmer's wife was sickly and needed help. At last the young girl was warm and comfortable and had plenty to eat. She could even afford to buy some new stockings AND send a little money to her parents.
She was happy as a bird and sang as she went about her work. But still, she kept the wooden bowl on her head because she had promised her mother not to take it off until the time was right.

Towards New Year, she helped prepare the house for a party. The eldest son of the family was coming home from fair Kyoto to stay with his parents. And what a party they held when the young man arrived! The family and their friends feasted and danced, played games and sang! Meanwhile, the girl cooked and cleaned in the kitchen, still with a wooden bowl on her head. When it was late, the son of the house came into the kitchen in search of more saké. And who do you think he saw? The girl was sitting on a pile of wood with a wooden bowl on her head.

"What kind of New Year's costume do you call that?" he asked. The girl blushed under her bowl. "Take it off so I can see your face," demanded the young man. But the girl only shook her head. When the son returned to the family, he enquired about the shy girl with a wooden bowl on her head, and he heard her story. He laughed, but he was intrigued. Over the next few days, he did his best to catch a glimpse of her face but failed in his efforts.

The New Year was over, and everyone expected the son to hurry back to his exciting life in the fair city of Kyoto. One of his aunts happened to ask him, "Isn't there some pretty face that you are hungry to feast your eyes on?"

"Why yes," replied the son. "I want above all else to see the face of the girl with a bowl on her head."

The aunt laughed and said, "I am sure you will be disappointed. If she were pretty, she wouldn't be covering up her face."

"Aunty, with all respect, I disagree," insisted the boy. "Indeed, I am so sure that she is beautiful, that I am willing to marry her if that is the only way I can persuade her to take the wooden bowl off her head. And even if I am wrong, and her face is not pretty, what do I have to lose? For it is clear that she is an honest girl with a good heart, and I would rather marry her than any of the fine girls of Kyoto.

When the aunt reported this gossip back to his parents, they thought their son must be joking. They called him, and he insisted that he was earnest. They were horrified!

The boy marched into the kitchen, where he humbly asked the girl with a bowl on her head for her hand in marriage. At first, the girl refused because she thought he was joking. For the next few days, he repeated his request, and she still refused because she did not want to upset his parents, who had been kind to her. But then, one night in a dream, her mother spoke to her and told her that everything would work well if she agreed to marry the boy. So in the morning, when he asked her again, this time she said, "yes." Oh, how that set the tongues wagging of all the boys' aunties, uncles, cousins and neighbours!

The morning of the wedding arrived, and the village maidens came to prepare the girl for her big day. They dressed her in a robe of white brocade with a trailing hakama of scarlet silk. On her shoulders, they hung a cloak of blue, purple and gold. Now she looked the fairytale bride apart from one thing - there was still a wooden bowl on her head.

"Off with that silly nonsense!" said the girls, and they tried to pull off the bowl. But the bowl would not budge, however hard they tugged.

"What kind of witchcraft is this?" asked the girls.

"Ah! Let ME be!" Cried the poor bride, "you're giving me a headache."

As they were already late, they rushed the girl with a bowl on her head to the wedding ceremony. Some of the family members objected when they saw her headdress. The groom clapped his hand and exclaimed, "A bowl doesn't bother me. On with the wedding!"

So they poured the saké from the silver bottle, and the two of them drank the mystic "Three Times Three" that made them man and wife.

At that moment, the wooden bowl burst apart with a loud crack and fell to the ground in a thousand pieces. With it fell a shower of silver and gold, pearls, rubies and emeralds. Great was the astonishment of the company as they gazed upon a dowry fit for a princess.

But the bridegroom looked into the bride's face. "My dear," he said, "no jewel could ever exist that shines like your eyes."

In case you are wondering, we must thank the good fairy of the woods for the fairy tale ending to this story. And of course, the girl did not forget to write to her parents. Although they did not want to leave their cottage, she was able to help them out with some money that was most welcome in their old age. Their only worry was that their daughter’s fine character would be spoiled by too much love, too much money, and too much happiness. But of course, they were worried about nothing.

And that was The girl with a bowl on her head, a story from Japan.

And I’m delighted to dedicate this story to Cora age 5 and Margo age 2 from Mount Juliet, Tennessee. What a lovely sounding name for a place to live in!

They kindly support us on Patreon. And there’s a little bonus storyfor this episode, courtesy of Cora and Margo. Here’ what they write.

We love listening to stories every morning on our way to school! We have a story idea that we would like to share with you.

The story takes place in a forest. A little girl is carrying a basket with food. The little girl saw a hungry bear in the woods. She ran back to her house and told her mama. The girl was so scared she ran to her bedroom and covered her head with the covers. Later the girl looked out her window and she saw the bear hiding behind a tree but now it was dressed as a clown. The end.

Cora wants to be an author and artist when she grows up. We do hope your ambitions come true. And thank you also to your mum, Paige