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The Tongue Cut Sparrow

Page 01,  The Tongue Cut Sparrow

Shita-kiri Suzume, or The Tongue Cut Sparrow, is one of Takejiro Hasegawa’s first children’s fairy tales in the Japanese Fairy Tales Series. Published in the late 1880s, this fable tells the story of an old woman whose overpowering greed leads to her demise.

At the beginning of the story, the old woman becomes annoyed with a sparrow that has stolen from her and so she cuts out its tongue. The old woman’s neighbors go in search of the sparrow and are rewarded with a light basket filled with jewels. When the old woman witnesses her neighbor’s wealth and riches increase, she goes out to search for the sparrow. When she finds it, she is given the choice of taking one of two boxes presented to her by the sparrow. She chooses the heavy box thinking it will give her more wealth; however, the box is filled with monsters that consume her.

In the end her excessive greed leads to her death. The moral of the story is to not be greedy because intense greed will only lead to one’s own demise.

There are many versions of this children’s book published at later dates and including the addition or change of characters. Overall, the fable has few characters, limited to an old woman, her neighbors, and the sparrow and his family.

Hasegawa originally printed the story on crepe paper with accompanying woodblock print illustrations.  The story has been published multiple times by different publishers between the years of 1911 to the present. There are many versions still available for purchase in English both electronically and in paperback.

Exhibit Created by: Lara Bone and Walter Stuart