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The Rat and the Prince : How we got the Zodiac and Why the Animals Are On It
Long Ago, Zodiac, the Emperor of Japan ordered for there to be a banquet at the base of mount Fuji for his birthday. He asked his twelve children to bring with them one animal that they think would represent him best so he can keep them as pets. His daughters Tora, Usagi, Uma, Hitsuji, Ondori, and Inoshishi were excited to find animals for their loving father. His sons Oonezumi, Oushi, Inu, Ryuu, Hebi, and Saru just wanted to get some of the delicious food that can only be found there. They weren't worried about being late for the meal because they wouldn't be hindered by their hakama pants like their sisters would be in their yukata dresses. As they waited for their father to dismiss them, the youngest son, Oonezumi, was thinking about what animal would be best suited for his esteemed father and he didn't hear the Emperor's last final instructions. Absentmindedly, he walked out of the palace and headed into the forest.
“ I will have plenty of time to find an animal suited for father.” muttered Oonezumi. “ No need to rush.”
“ Hello there Prince Oonezumi.” said a voice that was as quiet as the faint wind.
“ Who goes there?” Oonezumi asked puzzled by who could be in the forest.
“I am the rat of this forest. Please call me Rat. My humble house is right in from of your feet, Your Highness.” replied Rat.
“ Oh, I'm deeply sorry that I almost crushed your house, little friend.” Oonezumi loved any small creatures because he could relate to them, being the youngest son. “ I'm off on a trip to find the animal that would best represent my father, but I'm very hungry and tired from the long walk.” He replied wearily.
“ Why don't you rest and eat here with me? I just put some wild vegetables in a stew with some rice porridge. Would you like some fresh nuts while I prepare your food?” Rat asked eagerly.
“ If it wouldn't be a bother.” he said quietly.
Off scurried Rat back into the hole. The Prince wasn't aware, but, the Rat overheard the conversation between the Emperor and his children. He knew that Oonezumi was day dreaming and didn't hear his father say that they had to be at the banquet by nightfall. Rat wanted to use this opportunity to get revenge on the Prince for almost destroying his house.
He came back out seconds later with a big bowl of rice and stew along with some fresh water from the river. They talked about the peaceful life in the forest and the rowdy life in the palace with his brothers and sisters. The rat told the Prince that he would never want to leave his forest for something as lavish as a palace. By noon, Oonezumi was sound asleep against the large tree nearby to the sound of the river near him. His brother, Inu, was walking along the river when he saw his youngest brother's peaceful face.
“ Well, that is a peaceful face for someone who hasn't found their animal. Wish I could have that luxury.”he muttered.
He ran right to his ear and yelled. “ Hey Oonezumi! ”
He jolted up as if he was struck with lightning. “W-what?” he said sleepily. “ Oh Inu. What is it? Have you not found an animal yet and have come to ask your little brother for advice?” he added smugly.
Inu sighed. “ No foolish little brother. I saw you asleep and came to wake you up. Have you found your animal yet? ”
“ No,” he said calmly. “ but I still have plenty of t-.”
“ The banquet starts in one hour, remember it was the last thing that father said. You better hurry and find your animal” he said sternly. “ Father will be angry if you fail to bring an animal to him.”
“ Of course. Be on your way now, I can manage on my own.” Oonezumi said with a stressed smile.
With one final glance to his brother, Inu went on his way. Oonezumi had to think fast. He was about to tell Rat that he was leaving when he heard his voice.
“ That will teach the foolish Prince to almost crush my precious house! Now he will miss the banquet! Ha-ha-ha!” Rat said wickedly.
Oonezumi couldn't believe it! He thought that Rat was his friend and he betrayed him! He knew very well that he was going to be late to the banquet and he took advantage of his eagerness to trust people!
“ Well,” Oonezumi whispered. “ two can play at that game.” He remembered Rat's words about never wanting to leave his river house and planned a trick for him. He would tell Rat about all of his good qualities and flattering him into being Oonezumi's animal for the banquet. Little did he know what he would become a pet of the palace. That would teach Rat to try to trick Oonezumi.
Oonezumi yawned loudly and said to Rat in a sleepy voice. “ Hello my friend. I must be off the banquet now. I will be late if I go searching for an animal now, so why don't you come with me?”
“ Oh no! I couldn't, dear Prince!” replied Rat startled. “ I don't have the qualities that the Emperor has!”
“ Oh well.” Oonezumi said glumly. “I guess all the delicious food would go to waste then...”
“ Well.... maybe if you tell me six of the Emperors qualities that I have. Then I will accompany you to the banquet.” he said smoothly. Hiding his longing for the food. He was enough of a glutton to throw aside his anger for the promise of delicious food.
This was easy enough. “ You are very kind to people you barely know as my father is as kind to the common subjects that visit him. 1 he thought. “ You are a very skilled craftsman too, by the way you built your tableware.” ...2 he thought. “ You seem as wise as my father.” ….3 he thought. “ You carry yourself with as much pride as my father and your looks are equal to his.”he said. 5.. now one more. “ ...Why your even as strong as him!” He added cleverly.
After hearing these words, Rat agreed to go to the banquet with Oonezumi. He scurried up his arm and up to his shoulder. He sat there, clutching the pieces of fabric at his neck as they flew through the forest. They reached the base of the mountain just as the banquet was about to begin.
“ Ah, glad you could take time out of your busy day to join us Ooonezumi.” the Emperor said jokingly. “ Now we can start the feast but first lets present the animals now so they can join us for food.” he added excitedly.
First went the twin sons. Ryuu presented his father with a dragon.
“It is wise, strong, and courageous. Like you father.” Ryuu said hoarsely, coughing to the side, producing a cloud of black smoke.
“ Ah I see, thank you for the wonderful gift my son.” he said courteously.
Next went Inu. he presented him with a dog.
“ It is loyal like you father.” He said with a smile upon her face.
“ Very true my son.” the Emperor nodded.
Next went his daughters. Tora presented him with a tiger because of his fierceness in battle. Usagi plopped on his lap a snow haired rabbit because of his agility with a sword. Uma gave the Emperor a horse because of his speed. Hitsuji led a timid sheep by reins and handed it to her father.
“ A sheep for you precious father because of your gentle heart” she said shyly.
Ondori was next and she handed to him a rooster. She told him that it was for a early riser like him. Inoshishi handed him a baby boar and told him that they both are stubborn at times, but it is a good thing. An Emperor shouldn't be easily swayed by others.
Next came the other sons. Oushi presented him with an ox.
“Because it works as hard as you do, father.” he said respectfully.
Hebi present his father with a snake. He simply said that it was as dangerous as him. Saru followed after with a monkey. He told the Emperor that it was as playful as you.
Finally it was Oonezumi's turn. “ What do you have for me, my dearest son.”
“ For you father, I brought a little rat. I hope you enjoy your new household pet” he said with a smile. All the brothers laughed while the sisters eyed the creature in disgust.
Rat was furious! “ You lied to me!” he said appalled. He didn't want to leave his little home behind!
“ Well it's payback my little friend.” Oonezumi whispered.
“ Why have you chosen a Rat for me?” the Emperor asked puzzled.
“ It loves this land's beauty just as you do, father.” Oonezumi said with a deep bow in respect. Unexpectedly, his father came off his chair and hugged him.
“ This is the best gift of all my son! Thank you so much.” He came out of the hug with tears in his eyes.
Oonezumi turned to Rat. “ I think you learned your lesson. I will set you free.” he whispered. He turned back to his father.
“ Father, why don't we return all of these animals?They all love this kingdom as much as you do and it wouldn't be fair to confine them to the palace courtyard.”
The Emperor agreed, but before he released them, he wrote them down in the order he liked them most. One by one, the animals left and Rat learned to never try to trick someone because of one's own anger. The list the emperor made was called the Zodiac. The same one we use today.