The Magic Mortar

Ever wonder why the sea is so salty? Here's a Japanese folk tale with the answer. Enjoy!

The Magic Mortar

Once upon a time two brothers lived in a little village in Japan. The eldest brother worked very hard all the time, but the younger brother was very lazy and good-for-nothing. One day the elder brother went off to the mountains to work. While he was working, an old man came up to him and gave him a mortar made of stone, the kind used for grinding rice or wheat into flour.

“This is a magic mortar which will give you anything you wish for,” said the old man. “Please take it home with you.” The elder brother was very happy and rushed home with the mortar.

“Please give me rice. We need rice.” So saying, he ground the stick in the mortar. And all at once out came rice, bales of rice. There so much that he gave rice to everyone in the village. “This is wonderful! This is a great help. Thank you very much.” The villagers were all very happy.

That is, everyone was happy except the lazy younger brother. “I wish I had that; I’d make better use of it,” he grumbled to himself. And one day he stole the magic mortar and ran away. “No one will be able to catch me if I can get to the ocean,” he thought as he ran to the seashore.

When he reached the shore, he found a small rowboat. He took it and rowed very hard out to sea. He soon was far out and right in the middle of the big waves.

Then he stopped rowing and began to think what he wanted to ask the mortar for. “I have it! I would like a lot of nice, sweet little cakes.” And he began to grind at the mortar with the stick. “Give me cake! Give me cake!” And lots of fine white cakes came rolling out of the mortar.

“My! How good they are! And what a lot of cakes I got!” And he ate every one. He had eaten so many and they were so sweet that he began to feel he wanted to eat something salty to take the too-sweet taste out of his mouth.

So he ground at the mortar again and said: “Give me salt this time. I want salt. I want salt.” And now salt came pouring out of the mortar, all white and shining. And it kept coming and coming.

“Enough,” he cried, “I’ve had enough. Stop!” But the salt kept coming and coming, and the boat began to fill up and get heavy. And still the salt kept coming, and now the boat was so full it started to sink. And as the brother sank with the boat, he was still crying: “Enough! Enough!”

But the mortar kept on giving out salt and more salt, even down at the bottom of the ocean, and it is still doing it. And that is why the sea is salty.

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