The Happy Mirror Story

“The Happy Mirror Story” is a Japanese folktale. The English translation is below. Many thanks to Westfield for originally posting this; I’ve edited it for grammar and punctuation and so on. By the way, “mirror” in Japanese is “kagami” (鏡).

Many years ago in Japan, there lived a father, a mother, and their dear little girl. There was not a happier family in all of Japan. They took their little daughter to the temple when she was just thirty days old. She wore a long kimono, as all the Japanese babies do. For her first doll festival, her parents gave her a set of dolls. There was no finer set anywhere. Her dolls had long, black hair, silky and smooth, and were clad in gowns of satin and silk.

Her third birthday was a happy day. Her first sash of scarlet and gold was tied around her small waist. When that happened, she was no longer their baby daughter. She was their little girl, fast growing up. By the time she was seven, she was helping her parents in many ways. She could talk and dance and sing, and oh! Her parents loved her dearly.

One day, a messenger brought exciting news. The emperor had sent for the father. He had to leave for Tokyo at once. Tokyo was a long way off and the roads were rough. The father would have to walk every step of the way, for he had no horse. There were no railways nor even rickshaws to travel on. The little girl was glad her father was going to Tokyo. She knew that when he came back, he would tell her many interesting stories. And she knew that he would bring her presents. The mother was happy because the father had been sent for by the emperor, a great honor.

At last, all was ready. The father looked very fine as he started out on his long trip. He was going to meet the emperor, so he dressed in fine robes of silk and satin. The little family stood on the porch of the little house to bid him goodbye. “Do not worry. I will come back soon,” said the father. “While I’m away, take care of everything. Keep our little daughter safe.” “Yes, we shall be alright. But you must take care of yourself. Come back to as soon as you can,” said the mother. The little girl ran to his side. She caught hold of his sleeve to keep him a moment. “Father,” she said, “I will be very good while waiting for you to come back.”

Then he was gone. He went quickly down to the little garden and out through the gate. There, they could see him go down the road. He looked smaller as he went farther away. Soon all they could see of him was his peaked hat. Then that was out of sight, too.

The days seemed very long for the mother and the little girl. Many times each day, they would pray for the good father, for his journey to be safe. The days slipped by and one morning, the little girl saw someone coming over the mountains. She ran to tell her mother. Could that be her father?

They both went to the garden gate to watch. As he came nearer, they knew that he was the father. They both ran to meet him, little girl on one side, mother on the other. They were all happy again.
Inside the house, the little girl ran to untie her father’s straw sandals. The mother lovingly took off his large straw hat. They all sat down on the white mat, for he had bought presents. There in a bamboo basket was a beautiful doll and a box full of cakes. “Here,” he said to the little girl, “is a present for you. It is a prize for taking care of Mother and the house while I was away.”

“Thank you, Father dear,” said the little girl. Then she bowed her head to the ground. In a second, she had picked up her lovely new doll and gone to play with it. Again, the husband looked into the basket. This time, he brought out a square wooden box tied with gaily-colored ribbon. He handed it to his wife saying, “And this is for you, my dear.”

The wife took the box and opened it carefully. One side had beautifully carved pine trees and storks on it. The other side was bright and shining as smooth as a pool of water. Inside, there was something made of silver. She had never seen so lovely a present. She looked and looked at the pine trees and stork, which seemed almost real. Then she looked closer at the shining side. Suddenly she cried: “I see someone looking at me in this round thing! She is very lovely.”

Her husband laughed but said nothing. Then the mother’s eyes grew big with wonder. “Why, the lady I see has a dress just like mine! She seems to be talking to me!”

“My dear,” her husband answered, “that is your own face that you see. What I have given you is a mirror. All the ladies in Tokyo have them. If you bring a smiling face to the mirror, you will see a smiling face. If you are cross, you will see a cross face.”

The wife thanked her husband for the lovely gift. She promised to always bring a happy face to the mirror. Then she shut the box and put it away.

Often, the mother would take out the box and look inside. Each time, she was surprised. She liked to see her eyes shine. She liked to see how red her lips were. She always brought a happy smiling face to the mirror, that she might see a smiling face reflected. But eventually, she grew tired of looking in that mirror, and she put it away. In time, opening that box and gazing upon that happy mirror became no more than a yearly ritual.

Then the mother decided to save that lovely gift for her lovely daughter when she grew up. The years went by. The girl grew to be a young lady and no longer played with dolls. Instead each day, she helped her mother about the house. How proud her father was of her! He saw that she was growing more like her mother. Her hair was the same; her eyes were the same; her mouth was the same. She was the very image of her mother.

One day, the mother called her daughter and said, “My daughter, I have something to give you. Once each year, you are to gaze into it.” She took the square wooden box from the drawer. Carefully, the daughter untied the ribbon. Wondering, she lifted the cover and looked into the mirror.

“Why, Mother!” she cried. “It’s you! You look just as you used to look when I was a little girl.”

“Yes, dear, that is the way I looked when I was young. Be sure to smile when you look at me and I will smile back to you.”

From that day forth, the young woman kept the mirror near her. Once every year, she would open it up. Her mother’s words always proved true and within that mirror she saw her mother’s face. Oh, the joyful surprise! It was her mother, more beautiful each time that she looked. She seemed to smile at her daughter and the daughter smiled back at her. As long as she kept a smile on her face, that happy mirror reflected her mother’s smile back at her.

FURTHER READING

Ten Buddhist Koans
The Kubla Khan Poem
The Balancing Beetles
10 Metaphors for Love
10 Metaphors for Life