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Monkey -Part 1- “Saru Kani Gassen”

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/14 Traditional Culture , , , ,

Monkey in a nursery tale

The most famous tale of monkey is “Saru Kani Gassen” (The Battle Between A Monkey And Crabs).
Saru is Japanese for monkeys, Kani is crab.
Gassen is battle, pronounced as “Kassen” when it’s used as one word, Gassen when it’s a part of a word like “Yuki-gassen” (Snowball Battle).


Crab photo from Ashinari
Monkey from Pakutaso


Once upon a time, a crab was walking down the road with holding onigiri (rice-ball).
When a cunning monkey ran into the crab, the monkey succeeded to pursuade the crab to exchange onigiri for a seed of a persimmon he had, saying “If you sow this, you can get many persimmons when it grows”.

The crab planted the seed while singing a threatening song, “Grow fast, or I will chop you with my claws”.
This seemed to be effective, for it soon grew and bore a lot of fruit.
However, it was impossible for the crab to taste it because the crab couldn’t climb the tree.


-"Kaki" (persimmon)-
Photo from PAKUTASO

Then again, the monkey appeared and offered the crab his help.
At first, the crab was pleased, but when the monkey did nothing but eating ripe fruit on the tree, the crab protested against him.
The monkey picked green, hard fruit, threw it at the crab.
It hit hard enough to kill the crab.

Children of the crab were furious when they learnt what happened, they swore revenge.
A bee, a chestnut, an “usu” (a mortar to stamp grain, mainly rice these days. Usually heavy) and a cow’s poo(!) heard the story from them, willing to help them.

-"Kine" and "Usu"- "Kine" is a kind of hammer to stamp grain in "Usu". A bowl-like stuff under "Kine" is "Usu".

-"Kine" and "Usu"-
"Kine" is a kind of hammer to stamp grain in "Usu".
A bowl-like stuff under "Kine" is "Usu".
Photo from Ashinari

They went to the monkey’s house, but he was not in, so they decided to ambush him.
The chestnut hid in ashes of “irori” (fireplace in the middle of the room floor), the bee behind a big water pot in the house, the poo near the threshold, the usu on the roof just above the entrance.



When the monkey came home, he put a fire into irori for warmth.
This made the chestnut pop, straight into the monkey’s face.
When he hurried to the water pot to cool the burn, the bee stung him promptly.
With a cry, he tried to run out of the house, but slipped on the poo at the doorway, fell down to the ground outside.
Then the usu jumped at him and crushed him to death.
Thus, the revenge was fulfilled.


You may wonder “What were the children doing???” like I did.
There are many variants like other tales; in one version, the children attacked the monkey with their claws when he fell on the ground.

-Attack of "Kani"!!-

-Attack of "Kani"!!-
Photo from Ashinari

Speaking of a variant, the poo does not exist in my childhood memory.
I’m not sure if that’s because my noble mind refused to keep it or I just read a different version of the story which it is omitted or substituted, for I remember the monkey slipped and fell to the ground.
It’s understandable if the poo is kicked out of the story, as it is not very favourable word especially for parents to read out to children.

Related posts:
#Monkey(2) and Pheasant

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A Japanese living in Okayama. A proud "Otaku"! Loves animals, snacks, manga, games (PC, iPad, Nintendo DS, PSP), foreign TV dramas, traveling and football (soccer).

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