Tell Me a Story

The Money Tree (A Japanese Folktale)

Long ago, a man named Isamu lived with his beloved wife, Aiko, and life was happy for many years. But one day, Isamu became very upset with the Mikado, the emperor. He lost his temper.

"His laws are unjust!" he shouted to his wife. He ran to the Mikado's palace and stood outside and shouted insults.

For a while, no one paid attention, but Isamu did not stop. At last, the servants dragged him inside and explained to the Mikado what he had said.

The Mikado did not accept insults from anyone, and so he sent Isamu into exile.

When Aiko heard the news that her husband was to be sent out of the country, she ran to the palace and begged the Mikado to send her with her husband.

"You are forbidden to go," the Mikado said, and so it was that husband and wife were separated from each other.

Aiko was so brokenhearted that she decided she would visit the Sacred Shrine in Ise to pray for her husband's return. The shrine, one of the holiest sites in the country, was dedicated to the worship of Amaterasu, goddess of the sun, and Aiko was certain she would find solace there. But it was far from her home, and, left without her husband and any income, she was forced to walk. She walked with many pilgrims making their way to the site, but she grew exhausted, worn out by the distance and by her heartbreak.

After many hours, Aiko sat down to rest beneath a pine tree. For a moment, her heart felt light again as she looked out at the beautiful hillsides and felt the light breeze ruffling the leaves and her hair. The sky was a soft blue, and the mountains were breathtakingly beautiful. As she closed her eyes, she felt the first comfort since saying farewell to her husband.

After a while, a man walked past, and she smiled at him and offered him a greeting. She asked, "Kind sir, do you know how far it is to the Shrine of Ise?"

But the fellow was not kind at all. He was rude and angry at the world, and he snapped, "Twenty days away! Someone as weak as you will never make it."

In truth, it was not nearly so far, but Aiko did not know that, and her eyes welled with tears. "Twenty days?" she said. "I shall never make it."

"What do you want at the shrine?" the rude man asked.

"I must get there to pray for my dear husband to be returned to me. I am certain the gods will listen to the tender longings of a faithful and loving wife."

The fellow laughed and walked away. For a few moments, Aiko sat on the ground, feeling only despair.

But at last she gathered her wits and looked up at the pine tree.

"If I cannot make my offering and prayers at the shrine, I shall make them here," she said. "The gods, in their eternal kindness, will hear me."

She reached into her purse and pulled out some coins she had brought along, and these she laid upon the pine tree. She prayed that the gods would bless her and take her to her husband or return him to his home. She prayed that they would not punish a couple who had always been good and generous to others. She prayed to the gods to forgive the one moment her husband spoke in anger.

The rude fellow had not gone far, and he heard Aiko's prayers, but he wasn't interested. He had his eye on her coins. When Aiko lay down to rest, closing her eyes, he tiptoed closer and reached to steal the coins.

But the gods had heard Aiko's prayers, and just as the rude man reached forward, the pine tree turned into a two-headed serpent, spitting fire at the thief.

The man was so terrified, he knelt and closed his eyes and began to pray with all his heart and soul.

Aiko was stunned.

"I have been unkind," he said. "I am so sorry. I repent. I have done terrible things, and this woman deserves nothing but kindness."

With that, he turned toward Aiko and said, "Come, I will walk with you to the shrine. It is not far."

He led her to the shrine, and there she prayed again.

The gods were listening. They softened the heart of the Mikado, and he sent his servants to find her and bring her to the palace.

"Forgive me," the Mikado said to Aiko when she arrived. She was amazed by his words, and stood silently, listening.

"I have been too harsh with your husband," the Mikado explained, "and I wish to answer your prayers. What is your deepest desire?"

"That you return my husband to me," she said.

The next day, the servants were sent to retrieve Isamu and bring him home. From that day on, the pine tree where Aiko had placed her coins was made into a shrine.

Since that time, anyone who is ill and prays at that shrine is made well again, and whoever seeks the gods' favor is rewarded in great abundance.

"Tell Me a Story 3: Women of Wonder," the third CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit


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