(an Okinawan folktale)
Long ago there lived an old man and woman who were terribly poor, but they longed to celebrate New Year’s Eve, known as Toushinuyuru. Like all their friends and fellow villagers, they wished to have garlic to ward off evil spirits and to have some rice to eat on New Year’s Day, known as Shogatsu.
“Let us ask our neighbor if we can borrow some garlic and rice,” the old woman suggested. Their neighbor was a wealthy merchant, and they hoped he might be willing to share.
They walked next door to the home with the red-tiled roof and knocked timidly upon the door. When the merchant answered, the old man and woman asked politely if they might borrow some garlic and rice.
“Of course, we will repay you as soon as we can,” the old woman said.
The merchant only shook his head and slammed the door. The couple cast their gaze to the ground so no one would see their tears of sorrow, and they walked home.
“Never mind,” the husband said. “We shall celebrate by building a fire and boiling water! We will pretend we are drinking sake!”
All around, the people of the village were preparing for celebration — they had set up rows of tents with lanterns that lit up the grills, and dancers and drummers were gathering to drink and laugh and celebrate the coming of the New Year. But in their little house, the old man and woman had nothing — no lanterns, no lights, no tent, no garlic or rice.
Still, the old man lit a fire and said to his wife, “Now, we shall pretend this is a silver furnace, and our pot of water is made of gold and contains rice. Let us be thankful we have firewood and we can build a fire.”
“Yes,” said his wife, “we are lucky to have our health, our firewood and each other, and someday we shall feast!”
They continued to talk quietly as they sat around the fire. The night grew later, and they were growing sleepy, but suddenly they heard a knock on their door. When they opened it, they found an old man, stooped and dressed in rags.
“Hello, friends,” the man said. “I am traveling, and tonight I need a place to sleep. Would you be willing to let me stay? It’s very cold outside.”
“Yes, yes, come in,” the old woman said.
The old man added, “Of course, you might be more comfortable staying next door in our neighbor’s home. He is rich and can offer you some food and a bed, while we have only a hard wooden floor and hot water.”
The poor old man shook his head. “I knocked on your neighbor’s door,” he said, “but he sent me away. I am happy to sleep on the floor.”
“Then you are most welcome,” the old woman said, and her husband agreed.
“I only wish we could feed you something,” the old man said. “You must be starving, but all we have is hot water.”
“Let me give you a bowl,” the old woman said. She reached a ladle into the pot to serve some water, but to her amazement, she saw the pot was full.
“What’s this?” she cried. “Husband, come look.”
And when her husband looked into the pot, he saw that it was full of rice and tofu and squid. He gasped and turned to the stranger. “You must believe us — we boiled only water, but a miracle has happened here!”
The stranger smiled and looked down at the floor. “Yes,” he said. “I know. And now I must confess to you, I am not who I seem to be. I am the god Miruku, and I have come to bring luck to those who are deserving of it. You were kind enough to welcome me. I only wish to repay you with good fortune. Now, let us eat!”
And so the old man and woman and their visitor shared a New Year’s feast. That night they slept peacefully.
At the break of dawn, when the rooster crowed, Miruku woke and blessed the family. “And now I offer you the first luck of the New Year. You must choose — either money or youth.”
The old man and woman looked at each other. They had known and loved each other for so long that they had no need to speak. “We choose youth,” said the old man, and his wife nodded.
“Yes,” she said. “We have always been happy, and if we are young once more, we will be able to enjoy that happiness again.”
Miruku nodded and said, “Very well. Now go and bathe in hot water, and when you rise from your bath, you will be young again.”
And with those words, he departed.
The old man and woman drew water and boiled it, and then, just as Miruku had instructed, they bathed. When they stepped from the bath, they were young again. So they began the New Year overjoyed at the notion that they could spend their lives together once again.