The Tongue Cut Sparrow

Hear this tale on Episode 56 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

The Tongue Cut Sparrow
The Tongue Cut Sparrow by Hokusai.

The Tongue Cut Sparrow

The Tongue Cut Sparrow (舌切り雀) is a Folktale about an old husband and wife and a Sparrow.


The old man was kind-hearted and loving, however, the woman always spoiled the happiness of their home with her scolding tongue. The old man never paid her much mind. Working all day outside, he would return home to a tamed sparrow who he would talk with and teach tricks. Saving the bird some food from his meal to feed it.

The Tongue Cut Sparrow by Hasegawa Takejirō, 1886.

One day the old woman made some starch to wash her clothes, but the sparrow ate it. Being a truthful bird it told her what it had done asking for forgiveness. In retaliation, the old women cut the birds tongue out and drives it away from the house.

The old man after returning him finally gets his wife to tell him where the sparrow is. She tells him she cut out its tongue, and he, calling her cruel, decides he will go in search for her the next day.

He searched for her, eventually finding himself in a bamboo grove. He finds the sparrow here, giving apologise at how she was treated. She says there is nothing to forgive, showing a new tongue has grown back, revealing she is a fairy.

The Sparrow takes the old man to its house, made of the whitest wood, with cream-colored mats and cushions of silk. Whilst here the old man watched the sparrow’s daughter perform the Suzume-Odori (Sparrow Dance).

Night comes and so he says he must leave, despite the sparrow asking him to stay. And so as they part the Sparrow offers him a gift, he can either chose a small or large box to return home with, of which he takes the smaller.

Upon reaching home and explaining where he had been to his wife, they open the box t find it full of gold. His wife, being cruel hearted, berates him for not bringing the larger box as they could have had even more gold. She goes to bed angry, resolved to go collect the larger box herself.

She finds the Sparrow’s home the next day asking for the larger box, and the Sparrow gives it. The old woman is too weak to take the box home and so has to give in halfway. Opening the box she finds it full of demons which jump out and scare her and so she flees back home. There she berates the Sparrow to her husband, who in turn tells her to not blame the Sparrow but to blame herself as her wickedness led to this result.

And so the old woman repented her cruel ways, and the two of them spend the last of their days happy and content with not a need in the world.1


1. Ozaki, Y.T. (1903) “The Japanese Fairy Book”. Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd.

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