The Rabbit That Saved Japan

Several years ago, one of the newspaper’s editors reluctantly introduced me to a visitor as “our storyteller” and then quickly ushered the guest away before I could begin telling stories.

Admittedly, I enjoy a good yarn, particularly if it has to do with the checkered history of S’lano County, where men are men and women prune their hybrid tea roses with chainsaws.

Unfortunately, my storytelling propensity sometimes gets away from me outside the boundaries of this fabled county and that’s where trouble usually starts. Hard as it may be to believe, I don’t always get every tale exactly, er, right.

Solanoans are used to my storytelling peccadillos, but folks in other communities usually begin to look a little frantic about two minutes into any amusing anecdote I might decide to relate at the drop of a hat.

I was reminded of this unfortunate failing a few weeks ago as I prowled the shelves of a quaint Yountville gift shop in search of an appropriate birthday present for one of my co-workers.

Since “appropriate” around here usually means something that explodes, features a dancing gorilla or is at least 100-proof alcohol, I was having a tough time until I came upon a small bronze sculpture of a rabbit with a canoe paddle riding on a large leaf.

I promptly took my purchase to the cashier and foolishly inquired if she knew the remarkable folk tale behind the statue.

“No,” she responded. “I didn’t realize there was one.”

Wrong response.”Oh, yes – that’s the Rabbit Who Saved Japan,” I explained brightly, drawing on my extensive knowledge of Japanese folklore (courtesy of a former San Jose karate instructor known as Trader Rick).

“A rabbit saved Japan?” the cashier asked hesitantly, backing ever so carefully away from the counter.”

Yup. Story has it there was once an evil badger who came to Japan way back in the old days and stole all the kindling so everybody was, like, real cold and miserable and couldn’t make soup or anything,” I related.”

Uh-huh. An evil badger …” the cashier repeated slowly.”

Then this rabbit came along and loaded up a boat – or, in this case, a really big leaf – with lots and lots of kindling and paddled across the South China Sea and saved Japan,” I concluded.”


But what happened to the badger?” the woman queried, still backing away but somewhat curious.

She had me there. My karate-chopping acquaintance had never explained the fate of the evil badger.

“He, ahhhhh, went back to, like, Micronesia or someplace. Badgers are no match for rabbits,” I responded gamely.

Although the cashier seemed to accept my interpretation of the story, I should also point out that it sounded as if she locked the door behind me as I left her shop.

And drew the blinds. And pushed some furniture up against the door…

Yes, in retrospect, I realize that I perhaps shouldn’t be so enthusiastic in my efforts to share arcane folklore with strangers, but you’ve got to admit, it’s a really cool story…

Originally published June 13, 2004