The Mirror of


a Japanese Folktale

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A Japanese folktale by definition is one which is transmitted orally through many generations. The Mirror of Matsuyama might have begun as a folktale but was put to paper by the famous publicist Yei Theodora Ozaki.

This version of “The Mirror of Matsuyama” is a shortened version of the one included by Yei Theodora Ozaki in her “Japanese Fairy Tales”.


Long ago in Japan’s countryside lived a young family who lived far away from the capital of the kingdom. One day the father brings home a curious present for his wife; a mirror, an object she had never seen before. The wife keeps it hidden until she becomes ill and gives it to her daughter. This gift helps the daughter grow into a beautiful woman, always watched over by her loving mother.

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A long time ago a young couple lived in the country with their only child, a beautiful little girl whom they loved tenderly. The names of the parents cannot be told now, for they have long been forgotten, but we know that the place where they lived was Matsuyama, in the province of Echigo.



Now it happened when the child was still very little that her father was obliged to go to the capital of the kingdom. As it was so long a journey, neither his wife nor his child could go with him and he departed alone, promising to bring them many pretty gifts on his return. The mother had never been away from the neighborhood and was not able to get rid of some fear when she thought of the long journey her husband must take.



At the same time, however, she could not but feel pride and satisfaction that it was her husband who was the first man in all that region to go to the rich city where the king and the nobles lived, and where there were so many beautiful and marvelous things to be seen.



At last, when the good wife knew that her husband would return, she dressed her child gaily in the best clothes she had and herself in the blue dress that she knew he liked very much. It is not possible to describe the joy of the good woman when she saw her husband return safe and sound. The little one clapped her hands and laughed with delight when she saw the toys her father had brought, and he never tired of telling of the wonderful things he had seen on his journey and at the capital.



“To you,” he said to his wife, “I have brought a thing of wonderful power, that is called a mirror. Look and tell me what you see inside.” He handed her a little flat box of white wood, and when she opened it she saw a metal disk. One side was white as frosted silver and ornamented with birds and flowers raised from the surface; the other side was shining and polished like a window-pane.



Into this the young wife gazed with pleasure and astonishment, for from the depths she saw looking out at her a smiling face with parted lips and animated eyes. “What do you see?” repeated the husband, charmed by her amazement and proud to prove that he had remembered her in his absence. “I see a pretty young woman, who looks at me and moves her lips as if talking, and who wears what a wonderful thing! A blue dress exactly like mine!”



“Silly one! What you see is your own sweet face,” replied the man, delighted to know that his wife did not recognize herself. “This circle of metal is called a looking-glass. In the city, every woman has one, although here in the country no one has seen one until today.”



Enchanted with her gift, the woman passed several days in wonderment, because, as I have said, this was the first time she had seen a mirror, and consequently the first time she had seen the image of her own pretty face. This wonderful jewel she thought too precious to be used every day, and the little box she guarded carefully, concealing it among her most precious treasures.



Years passed, the good man and his wife living happily through them all. The delight of his life was the child, who was growing into the living image of her dear mother, and who was so good and affectionate that everybody loved her. The mother, remembering her own passing vanity over her beauty, kept the mirror hidden, to protect her daughter from any chance of vanity.



As for the father, no one had spoken of the glass, and he had forgotten all about it. Thus the child grew up frank and guileless as her mother wished, knowing nothing of her own beauty or what the mirror might reflect.



But there came a day of terrible misfortune to this family, till then so happy. The devoted and loving mother fell sick, and although her daughter watched her with affectionate and tender devotion, the dear woman grew worse and worse each day. When she knew that she must soon pass away, she was very sad, grieving for husband and daughter that she must leave behind on earth; and especially was she anxious for the future of her loving daughter.



Calling the girl to the bedside, she said: “My beloved child, you see that I am so very sick that soon I must die and leave you and your father alone. Promise me that when I am gone, every morning when you get up and every night when you go to bed, you will look into the mirror, which your father gave me long ago. In it, you will see me smiling back at you, and you will know that I am ever near to protect you.



Having spoken these words, she pointed to the place where the mirror was hidden, and the girl, with tears on her cheeks, promised to do as her mother wished. Tranquil and resigned, the mother then passed quickly away.



The dutiful daughter, never forgetting her mother’s wishes, each morning and evening took the glass from the place where it was hidden and gazed at it intently for a long time. There she saw the face of her dead mother brilliant and smiling, not pallid and ill as it was in her last days, but young and beautiful.


To this vision each night she confided the troubles and little faults of the day, looking to it for help and encouragement in doing her duty.



In this manner the girl grew up as if watched over and helped by a living presence, trying always to do nothing that could grieve or annoy her sainted mother.



Her greatest pleasure was to look into the mirror and feel that she could truthfully say: “Mother, today I have been as you wished that I should be.



After a time the father observed that his daughter looked lovingly into the mirror every morning and every evening, and appeared to converse with it. Wondering, he asked her the cause of her strange behavior. The girl replied: “Father, I look every day into the glass to see my dear mother and to speak with her.” She then related to him the last wishes of her dying mother, and assured him that she had never failed to comply with them.



Wondering at such simplicity and loving obedience, the father shed tears of pity and affection. Nor did he ever find the heart to explain to the loving daughter that the image she saw in the mirror was but the reflection of her own beautiful face. Thus, by the pure white bond of her filial love, each day the charming girl grew more and more like her long passed mother.





  • Author: Japanese Folktale
  • Illustrator: Samantha Bragg
  • Animator:  Tyson Benard & Cody Hess
  • Voice Artist:  Lisa Clark
  • Sound Design:  John Goodman
  • Producer:  David Swanson
  • Executive Producer:  Richard Platt
  • Director:  David Swanson

This book is a production of myRead, Inc.  All rights reserved.  Illustrations, video and audio Copyright 2012.  Text for this book is in the public domain.

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