Long enough ago there dwelt within a day's journey of the city of Kioto a gentleman of simple mind and manners, but good estate. His wife, rest her soul, had been dead these many years, and the good man lived in great peace and quiet with his only son. They kept clear of women-kind, and knew nothing at all either of their winning or their bothering ways. They had good steady men-servants in their house, and never set eyes on a pair of long sleeves or a scarlet obi from morning till night.
The truth is that they were as happy as the day is long. Sometimes they laboured in the rice-fields. Other days they went a-fishing. In the spring, forth they went to admire the cherry flower or the plum, and later they set out to view the iris or the peony or the lotus, as the case might be. At these times they would drink a little sake, and twist their blue and white tenegui about their heads and be as jolly as you please, for there was no one to say them nay. Often enough they came home by lantern light. They wore their oldest clothes, and were mighty irregular at their meals.
But the pleasures of life are fleeting - more's the pity! - and presently the father felt old age creeping upon him.
One night, as he sat smoking and warming his hands over the charcoal, "Boy," says he, "it's high time you got married."
"Now the gods forbid!" cries the young man. "Father, what makes you say such terrible things? Or are you joking? You must be joking," he says.
"I'm not joking at all," says the father; "I never spoke a truer word, and that you'll know soon enough."
"But, father, I am mortally afraid of women."
"And am I not the same?" says the father. "I'm sorry for you, my boy."
"Then what for must I marry? " says the son.
"In the way of nature I shall die before long, and you'll need a wife to take care of you."
Now the tears stood in the young man's eyes when he heard this, for he was tender-hearted; but all he said was, "I can take care of myself very well."
" That's the very thing you cannot," says his father.
The long and short of it was that they found the young man a wife. She was young, and as pretty as a picture. Her name was Tassel, just that, or Fusa, as they say in her language.
After they had drunk down the "Three Times Three" together and so became man and wife, they stood alone, the young man looking hard at the girl. For the life of him he did not know what to say to her. He took a bit of her sleeve and stroked it with his hand. Still he said nothing and looked mighty foolish. The girl turned red, turned pale, turned red again, and burst into tears.
"Honourable Tassel, don't do that, for the dear gods' sake," says the young man.
"I suppose you don't like me," sobs the girl. "I suppose you don't think I'm pretty."
"My dear," he says, " you're prettier than the bean-flower in the field; you're prettier than the little bantam hen in the farm-yard; you're prettier than the rose carp in the pond. I hope you'll be happy with my father and me."
At this she laughed a little and dried her eyes. "Get on another pair of hakama" she says, "and give me those you've got on you; there's a great hole in them - I was noticing it all the time of the wedding!"
Well, this was not a bad beginning, and taking one thing with another they got on pretty well, though of course things were not as they had been in that blessed time when the young man and his father did not set eyes upon a pair of long sleeves or an obi from morning till night.
By and by, in the way of nature, the old man died. It is said he made a very good end, and left that in his strong-box which made his son the richest man in the country-side. But this was no comfort at all to the poor young man, who mourned his father with all his heart. Day and night he paid reverence to the tomb. Little sleep or rest he got, and little heed he gave to his wife, Mistress Tassel, and her whimsies, or even to the delicate dishes she set before him. He grew thin and pale, and she, poor maid, was at her wits' end to know what to do with him. At last she said, "My dear, and how would it be if you were to go to Kioto for a little?"
"And what for should I do that?" he says.
It was on the tip of her tongue to answer, "To enjoy yourself," but she saw it would never do to say that.
"Oh," she says, "as a kind of a duty. They say every man that loves his country should see Kioto; and besides, you might give an eye to the fashions, so as to tell me what like they are when you get home. My things," she says, "are sadly behind the times! I'd like well enough to know what people are wearing! "
"I've no heart to go to Kioto," says the young man, "and if I had, it's the planting-out time of the rice, and the thing's not to be done, so there's an end of it."
All the same, after two days he bids his wife get out his best hakama and haouri, and tp make up his bento for a journey. "I'm thinking of going to Kioto," he tells her.
"Well, I am surprised," says Mistress Tassel. "And what put such an idea into your head, if I may ask?"
"I've been thinking it's a kind of duty," says the young man.
"Oh, indeed," says Mistress Tassel to this, and nothing more, for she had some grains of sense. And the next morning as ever was she packs her husband off bright and early for Kioto, and betakes herself to some little matter of house cleaning she has on hand.
The young man stepped out along the road, feeling a little better in his spirits, and before long he reached Kioto. It is likely he saw many things to wonder at. Amongst temples and palaces he went. He saw castles and gardens, and marched up and down fine streets of shops, gazing about him with his eyes wide open, and his mouth too, very like, for he was a simple soul.
At length, one fine day he came upon a shop full of metal mirrors that glittered in the sunshine.