The Ambitious Stone Sculptor

A Japanese tale of arrogance and vanity

Photo by Tyler Lastovich from Pexels

Original Japanese tale published in French by Philippe and Ré Soupault in the 1997 book Histoires merveilleuses des cinq continents, Tome 2. Translated by Joseph Mavericks.

Hundreds of years ago, there was a stone sculptor who lived in Japan. Everyday, he would walk from his small hut in the forest to the bottom of a huge mountain, and start hammering the rocks to carve and turn them into gravestones and house walls. The sculptor knew all the different kinds of stones that existed, what to use them for, and how to to take care of them. He was an excellent craftsman and had a lot of regular customers. Business was good, he was living a happy life, and for a very long time he didn’t wish for anything more than what life had already given him.

One day, the stone sculptor had to deliver a gravestone to a very rich customer. When he got to the place, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The place was magnificent, unlike anything he had ever seen before. The furniture, the rooms, the gold… Everything about the place was grandiose. When he got back to his place that night, he couldn’t fall asleep. He kept thinking of all the amazing things he had seen at his customer’s house. The next morning and for the rest of the days, his job became painful, exhausting, his life dull and unhappy.

“If only I was rich”, the stone sculptor thought the next day while at work. “Then I could sleep in a bed made of gold, with sheets of silk, and eat on a beautiful table. I would be so happy!” Out of nowhere, he heard The Mountain Genie answer his prayer: “Your wish has been granted. You will now be as rich as you ever wanted.” The stone sculptor couldn’t believe it. He thought his mind was playing tricks on him. He decided to go home early, because he was exhausted.

Once he got home after a long walk, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Instead of his tiny wooden hut in the forest was now a magnificent palace, complete with furniture, a golden bed and food on the most beautiful table he had ever seen! The stone sculptor entered the palace, and it only took him a few days to get used to his new life. Soon, he forgot about his painful and tiring job.

One day during the summer, it was so hot that the old stone sculptor decided to stay inside his palace and spend the day looking by the window overlooking the main forest path. After a bit of time, a prince came along. He was sitting on a big coach pulled by magnificent horses. His servants were holding out umbrellas to protect him from the sun. The stone sculptor couldn’t believe it.

“If only I was a prince”, he said. “Then I could spend my days in a coach pulled by magnificent horses, sheltered from the sun by umbrellas made of silk, held out by my servants. I would be so happy!” Out of nowhere, he heard The Mountain Genie answer his prayer: “Your wish has been granted. You will now be a prince.”

And so the stone sculptor became a prince. He now had soldiers, servants, horses and coaches at his disposal.

One day while outside, he noticed that the grass in his garden was completely dry, even though his gardener was watering it everyday. He also noticed that his face was getting drier and wrinklier overtime. This was because of The Sun.

“The Sun is stronger than I am! If only I was the sun! Then I would be the strongest.” Out of nowhere, he heard The Mountain Genie answer his prayer: “Your wish has been granted. You will now be The Sun”.

And so the stone sculptor became The Sun. Everyday, he was shining on Mother Earth, with all his strength. He was so proud and high, he didn’t have to care about the heat or his grass anymore. He was the heat. Down on earth, everything became dry. The trees, the plants and the lakes all dried up, and the faces of the rich and the poor became wrinklier. Looking down at the drought, the stone sculptor felt so powerful.

One day, a cloud flew by in front of him, blocking his light and heat aimed at Mother Earth. The stone sculptor became mad.

“This cloud can stop my rays of light, I can’t shine! It is stronger than me. If only I was a cloud. Then I would be the strongest!” Out of nowhere, he heard The Mountain Genie answer his prayer: “Your wish has been granted. You will now be a cloud.”

And so the stone sculptor became a cloud. He was the only one strong enough to stop The Sun from shining so high and bright. He could also make rain pour on Mother Earth, for as long as he wanted. He was so proud, he felt so strong, he kept making the rain pour for days and weeks, without stopping. He flooded rivers, rice fields, towns, villages and houses.

Soon, the stone sculptor noticed that the rocks didn’t seem to care for the rain. They stayed strong and immovable. Nothing could bother them, neither the extreme heat of The Sun nor the never-ending rain of the clouds.

“These rocks are stronger than me!”, the sculptor said. “If only I was a rock. Then I would be the strongest!”. Out of nowhere, he heard The Mountain Genie answer his prayer: “Your wish has been granted. You will now be a rock.”

And so the stone sculptor became a rock. “I’m the strongest, most magnificent” he thought to himself.

One day, he heard a weird noise coming from down under. He looked all the way down to his stone body, and he saw that a human was chipping away at him, with a hammer and a chisel.

“How can this weak human be stronger than me! I am a rock!”, he said. “If only I was a human. Then I would be the strongest!” Out of nowhere, he heard The Mountain Genie answer his prayer: “Your wish has been granted. You will now be a human.”

And so the stone sculptor became a human again. He went back to hammering stones, sculpting gravestones and house walls. His palace was gone. Everyday he walked from his tiny wooden hut to the bottom of the huge mountain, and he chipped away at the rocks. He sold his art to rich princes that could protect themselves from the heat and the rain, from The Sun and the clouds, and had coaches, servants and soldiers at their disposal.

Every night for the rest of his life, the stone sculptor went home to his hard bed, his tiny hut and his simple table.

Every night for the rest of his life, the stone sculptor remembered to be grateful for what he had and to appreciate the small things in life.

And until the day he died, the stone sculptor never wished again to be anything more or anything less than what he already was.

A human.

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