A bag of rice

Jesters and jester types were regularly rewarded by the king or other head honcho for their services.  In addition to accounts of such gifts and perks, there is a sub-set of stories showing the fool using some humorous wheeze to squeeze a bit extra from the royal hand.

In a rare example of what appears to be a Japanese jester, the second unifier of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98), was tricked into giving more than he bargained for by Sorori (Sugimoto Shinzaemon), a scabbard maker whose great wit and humour enabled him to become `a kind of buffoon to Hideyoshi’.  As such, he would be the only named Japanese court jester I am aware of, which isn’t to say there aren’t more to be found for those who can read Japanese.

Sorori was to be rewarded for comforting a melancholy Hideyoshi and he couched his request in deceptively humble terms:

‘Hideyoshi asked Sorori what recompense he wished. He replied, “A paper bag full of rice.” Hideyoshi, pleased with his moderation, promised him what he desired. However, several days later Sorori arrived dragging after him an enormous paper bag, which he put over a great barn. Hideyoshi was much amused, and asked Sorori to celebrate the matter in a verse.’

Note that Hideyoshi considers his trickster-chutzpah as something to be celebrated.

A similar story of deceptive modesty in a request is told about the god Visnu, who in guise of a dwarf appears before an overly generous king and asks for an apparently simple gift. According to Shulman:

Arul means ‘mercy, compassion, grace; arul tends towards spontaneity and danger: arul can redeem, but it can also carry one beyond all limits. Thus when Visnu appears as a dwarf before the all-too-generous king Bali, he asks for the deceptively modest gift of the space covered by three steps – and he couches his request in terms of arul: give, if you have arul. Bali follows his generous instinct and is dethroned.’

GAP MAP: Japan. Beyond this single story, I barely came across any examples or even passing references to jesters in Japan. It would be great to know whether they existed and if so to learn more of them and the materials relating to them. Japanologists of the world, dive in!


Sources: Blyth, R.H., Japanese Humor (Tokyo: Japan Travel Bureau, 1957), p. 73; David Shulman, The King and the Clown in South Indian Myth and Poetry (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), p. 50

Photo credit: congerdesign and AHTmedia at pixabay

Shulman, David, The King and the Clown in South Indian Myth and Poetry (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), p. 50

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