Longevity

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Hear this tale on Episode 77 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Longevity

Longevity (Chosei Furo – 長生不老) is one of many Japanese folktales, this one centered around a man known as Sentarō.

Synopsis

Longevity
The Crane flew away, right out to Sea.

This tale has also been given the name of The Man who did not wish to die and goes as follow.

There was a man called Sentarō and he was a rich man. When he turned 32 he thought about death and began to fear it and sickness.

He wished to be at least 500 or 600 hundred years old and thought about the Chinese Emperor Shin-no-Shiko (who built the Great Wall) who also did not wish to die and so he wanted to find the Elixir of Life. The Emperor sent his retainer Jofuku to Horaizan to get the Elixir but he never returned. Since then Mount Fuji is said to have been Mount Horaizan, the Elixir’s secret held by the hermits there.

Sentarō goes to Fuji to find the hermits. He can’t find them, even after asking the help of a hunter so he prays at Jofuku’s shrine for seven days and nights. At midnight on the seventh night Jofuku appears. Jofuku says it would be hard for him to be a hermit as he lives a rich life, so he offers to send him to the Land of Perpetual Life.

He gives him a small paper crane which unfolds and grow big enough for Sentarō to ride on, and it take him to the place he could live forever. After arriving at the island he became a resident and was given his own home. In this place many priests told stories, saying people could only reach a place called Paradise through death and Sentarō quickly found out that most of those that lived here really wished for death. People would buy poisons in the hopes of dying but they never worked. People took medicine to try and have their hair turn grey, or get sick. But nothing worked.

After 300 years Sentaro had grown bored and wanted to return to Japan and the paper crane he had forgotten about fell out of his pocket. He boarded the crane again and started his journey back to Japan but almost immediately regretted his decision. He tried to get the crane to turn around but he failed.

Longevity
He Screamed out to Jofuku to come and Rescue him.

Eventually a storm comes around, he is thrown into the ocean where a shark appears. The shark comes closer and Sentarō fearing death asks for Jofuku to come rescue him.

Sentaro then awakens to find himself still at the shrine he had been praying at. A messanger from Jofuku appears saying Sentarō had been given the chance to see the land of Eternal Life but he had grown weary and asked for death. And when death came for him as a shark he begged to live. His desire for death was not earnest and he could never live as a hermit.

Given a book by the messanger he returns home and follows the teachings in the book. Due to this he lived a good life and his house prospered.1

Footnotes

1. Ozaki, Y.T. (2015) “Japanese Fairy Tales” USA: Cavalier Classics.

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