The OX Woman


In a village there lived a woman who was very tall and very big. She was so tall that she always walked with her head bent. She was deaf; and she loved her only child very much.

She always wore a dark-colored kimono. She lived all alone with her child, and the village folk often saw her walking along the road, leading the child, who was still small, by the hand. She was so big, and so gentle, just like a cow, that someone or other gave her the name of “Ox Woman.”

Whenever the woman went by, the village children would say, “ there goes the Ox Woman!” and would tag along behind as if she were a great curiosity, calling all kinds of things after her. But, being deaf and dumb, she could not hear them, and went on plodding along, poor woman, with her eyes on the ground as though nothing at all had happened.

The Ox Woman’s love for her child was no ordinary love. She knew well that she was different from others, and that everybody despised her child as the child of someone different, and that there was nobody but herself who would bring it up. It made her pity and love the child all the more.

The child, a boy, loved his mother. Wherever she went, he went with her.

The Ox Woman was big, and many times stronger than ordinary people, and she had a gentle nature as well, so people often asked her to do their heavy work for them.

All kinds of things she did for thembringing firewood on her back, carrying stones, shouldering their baggage. She worked very hard, and she and the child lived from day to day on the money she earned.

But though she was so big and strong, the Ox Woman fell ill. Most living creatures fall ill at some time or other, but the Ox Woman’s illness was very serious, and she had to give up her work.

The Ox Woman was afraid she would die. Who would look after the child, she wondered, if anything happened to her? But then she told herself that even if she died, she would not die altogether. Her spirit, she felt sure, would come back in some different form to watch over the child’s future. A great tear, and another, and another splashed down from the Ox Woman’s big, gentle eyes.

But the Ox Woman could not go against her fate. Her illness grew worse, and in the end she died.

The village folk felt sorry for her. At the thought of how she must have worried over the child she was leaving behind, there was not one of them but felt pity for her.

They got together, and gave her a funeral, and buried her in the graveyard. And they decided they would all look after the child she had left behind.

So the child moved about from one house to another; the days and months went by, and gradually he grew bigger. Yet still, whenever he was happy, or sad, he would long for his dead mother.

Spring came to the village, and summer; autumn followed, then winter, but the child only thought of his dead mother, and longed for her all the more.

Then, one winter’s day, the child was standing on the outskirts of the village gazing at the mountains that stood on the border of their province, when suddenly he saw the shadow of his mother, standing out black and clear on the snowy side of a mountain.

He was very surprised, but he told no one of what he had seen.

Whenever he felt a longing for his mother, he would go and stand on the outskirts of the village and look at the mountains in the distance. Any day when the weather was fine and clear, he could see her dark outline quite plainly. It was just as though she was gazing silently across in his direction, watching over her child’s well-being.

Though the child told no one of what he had seen, in the end the villagers found out for themselves.

The news went around:The Ox Woman’s appeared on the western mountains!” And they all went out to gaze at the mountains to the west.

“She must have been very worried about her child,” they told each other, “ to appear on the mountain like that.”

On fine evenings, the children would look over at the mountains and cry out to each other, “ The Ox Woman! The Ox Woman!” They could talk of nothing else.

Sooner or later, though, spring came, and the snow began to vanish. The Ox Woman’s form gradually grew fainter, and by the middle of spring, when the snow had disappeared completely, she was to be seen no more.

Next winter, though, when the snow settled on the mountains and began to fall down in the villages, the dark shadow of the Ox Woman appeared again, quite plainly, on the western mountains.

Throughout the winter, she made a topic of conversation for the villagers and their children. Every day, the child she had left behind stood on the outskirts of the village, gazing at the form of his beloved mother.

“The Ox Woman’s appeared again. How she worries for her child, poor woman!” said the villagers, and they took great care of the child. Soon, warm spring came again, and the Ox Woman’s shadow vanished once more with the snow.

Thus year in, year out, her dark form would appear on the western mountains. In time, though, the child grew up, and was apprenticed to a merchant in the town, some way from the village.

Even after going to the town, he would still gaze at the shadow of his beloved mother on the western mountains, and even after he had gone, when the snow fell and the Ox Woman appeared on the western mountains again, the villagers would talk of the great love between the mother and her child. After a time, they came to tell the changing seasons by the Ox Woman. “Look,” they would say, “how the Ox Woman has faded. It must be getting warmer.”

In spring one year the Ox Woman’s child ran away from the merchants where he was apprentice. He went of his own accord, without asking his mother up on the western mountains. Getting on a train, he went off to a province in the south, forgetting all about his old home.

Nobody, neither the villagers nor the townsfolk, could tell what had happened to him. Summer went, autumn passed, and then it was winter again.

 Soon, the snow fell and settled on the mountains, on the village, and on the town. But this year, strange to say, the Ox Woman failed to appear as usual on the western mountains.

“Her child’s gone from the town” people told each other doubtfully, “so she doesn’t need to watch over him any more.”

    Again winter passed and spring came. Here and there in the town, the snow still lingered unmelted.

Then, one night, people saw a large woman plodding through the streets. They were very surprised, for there was no doubt about it: it was the Ox Woman.

Why had she come? they asked each other; and where had she come from? Many times more after that, people saw her walking the streets forlornly in the dead of night.

“She can’t know that her child’s left his old home,” people said. “She must be searching for him.”

The snow melted right away, leaving no trace in the town. A pleasant season came; the trees put out their silver buds, and the sky had a faint glow even at night. One night, they say, the Ox Woman was seen standing in a dark alley way in the town, crying bitterly. But not a soul saw her again after that; for some reason or other, she had left the town.

From that year on, the black shadow of the Ox Woman was seen no more on the mountains, even in winter.

Her child went south, to the land where it never snows, and there he worked long and hard. In time he grew quite rich, and began to grow homesick for the land where he was born.

Back at home, neither mother nor brothers and sisters awaited him, but there were the kind people who had brought him up in his childhood. He re- membered them, and the village, and he felt he should go to thank them.

So he came back to his old home, bringing with him many presents and much money. He thanked the village folk from his heart for their kindness, and they were glad to see how the Ox Woman’s child had got on in the world.

He felt he must do something for the village. So he bought a large piece of land, and planted many apple trees. He would grow fine, large apples, and send them to other parts of the land.

He paid many people to work for him. They gave the trees fertilizer, wrapped them up against the winter cold, and saw that the snow did not break their branches.

As time went by, the trees grew bigger and bigger, till one year, in the spring, the whole wide orchard was covered with apple blossom like snow.

All day long the sun shone brightly on the blossom, and the bees buzzed among the flowers from dawn to sunset. By early summer, the small, green fruit was clustering on the branches. Then, just as the fruit was growing big, the whole orchardful of apples got the blight at the same time, and the fruit dropped.

The next year again, and the year after that, all the apples dropped in the same way. Somehow, he felt that there must be some special reason for what happened.

“It may be a curse,” a wise old man of the village told him one day. “Can you think of anything you’ve done wrong?” At the time, he could think of nothing, but later, when he thought it over quietly by himself, he remembered how he had neglected his mother’s spirit in going off far away from the town. Even since his return to his birth place, he had only visited her grave, and had not had the priest come to make proper offerings for the repose of her soul. He realized how ungrateful he had been for the love she had given him, and for the way she had watched over him even after her death.

His mother must surely be angry, he thought. So he set about honoring her, memory in earnest. Determined to do his best for her he arranged a service, with priests and all the villagers invited.

The next spring, the apple blossom bloomed white like snow once more. This was the time each year when the insects got into the apples, but this year, he hoped, the fruit would form properly.

One day in summer, around sunset, a flock of bats came flying out of nowhere. They came every evening and flew about over the orchard, eating up all the harmful insects. Among them, there was one especially big bat, who seemed to lead all the rest, as though it were their queen.

At night, whether when the moon was big and round, or whether there were black clouds and it was pitch dark outside, the bats were always flying about over the apple orchard. That year, the fruit did not get the blight and there was a big crop, bigger even than he had hoped.

“The Ox Woman has turned herself into a bat to watch over her child,” the villagers told each other, touched by her gentleness and the kindliness of her heart.

When summer came the year after, and the year after that, a large bat again came every night, bringing many other bats, and flew about over the apple orchard. Thanks to them the apple trees bore their fruit well, free from any harmful insects.

Thus, in a few years time, the Ox Woman’s child was settled in a happy life as a farmer of the district.

 Translated by John Bester

OGAWA Mimei(1882-1961) left his home in Niigata Prefecture and went to Tokyo in 1901. He enrolled in the Department of English Literature at Waseda University and received personal guidance from Professor Tsubouchi Shoyo(1859-1935), the distinguished scholar of English literature, and novelist and dramatic critic. For his undergraduate thesis he wrote on Lafcadio Hearn, and in 1905 he was in the first graduating class of Waseda. In 1907 he published a collection of short stories.

At a time when naturalism flourished, he alone defended an unfashionable romanticism and during this period lived in extreme poverty. In 1910 he published The Red Boat, his first collection of children’s stories. About this time he became interested humanistic socialism and was among the founders when the Japan Socialist Federation was organized in 1920. In 1925 Chuo Koron Company published a six volume of Ogawa Mimei Senshu (Selected Works of Ogawa Mimei), and in the the following year Mimei announced that he had stopped being a novelist and would devote himself solely to writing children’s stories.

He is known as a pioneer among modern authors of children’s stories in Japan. The stories are all short and number close to 800.

The bases of his work, in brief; are romanticism and humanism. Since his thinking inclined towards socialism, these are children’s stories which are full of the quest for social justice. Around 1917, he was somewhat influenced by realism and wrote the so-called Seikutsu dowa “children’s stories based on real life,”but what he really sought in his works was poetry, and his main concern was the human heart. He received the Japan Arts Academy Prize in 1951 for his contribution to literature for children. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1961. (John Bester : From The Japan P.E.N. News No.12 : 9-12 1964)

The Ox Woman is based on a legend of his hometown, Echigo Province (present-day Niigata Prefecture), where a pattern that looks like a black ox appears on a certain mountainside, and can be seen only when snow falls in the winter. The story tells of a deaf and mute woman, nicknamed ‘Ox Woman’ because of her strength, and her only son. Ogawa depicts a longing also found in other of his works, to break out of the feel depressed in snow country and go south. Ogawa’s work can be said to reflect his idealistic anarchism, which developed from his encounter with and great esteem for OSUGI Sakae (1885-1923). The Ox Woman (Ushi Onna) was first published at the child magazine Fairy World (Otogi no Kuni) in 1919. Japan P.E.N. club published an English translation in 1964. (The Japan P.E.N. Club 2013)


Note: The Japan P.E.N. Club is digitizing the English translation of literary works, in order to preserve them in an archive of modern Japanese culture. The works appeared in The Japan P.E.N. News (published in irregular dates, from July 1958 to September 1971. The Japan P.E.N. Club will publish them online, at irregular dates, in the Digital Library-International Edition.

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Novelistchildren’s stories and fairy tales. April 7, 1882–May 1, 1961. Born in Joetsu city, Niigata. His real name is Ogawa Kensaku. He graduated from the English Literature Department of Waseda University in 1905. In 1910 he published his first fairy tale (The Red Boat/Akai Fune). He has been called Japan’s Hans Christian Andersen. His most famous stories are The Mermaid and the Red Candles (Akai Rosoku to Ningyo) and The Ox Woman (Ushi Onna). As the first president of Japan Association of Writers for Children (founded in 1946), he contributed for children. He received the Prize of Japan Art Academy in 1951 and Prize for culture service in 1953. Joetsu city (his hometown) made the Mimei Ogawa Literature Museum and the Mimei Ogawa Literature Prize. 


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