A friend of mine, who’s an international exchange student from Japan now currently studying in China, contributes this story. She read this story from a Japanese traditional story book, but she says this story is actually quite well-known. We interviewed in Chinese so the following is only rough translation of what she shared.
There were two poor old women living as neighbors in the village. One day, one of the old lady found an injured sparrow in her yard, so she took in the sparrow and took good care of it. Everyone in her family as well as the neighbors laughed at her for “seeking for troubles”, but she ignored them. She fed the sparrow rice and water every day, and tended its wound with great care. Days after, the sparrow was fully healed and the old lady let it flew away. However, the sparrow came back a while later with some seeds in its mouth. The sparrow left the seeds to the old lady and took off again. The old lady took the seeds and planted it in her yard. The next morning, where she planted the seeds now there has fully grown trees of countless gourds. Each gourd was as huge as a human head. The old lady took a gourd and opened it — the gourd was full of rice! The overjoyed lady then shared the rice and her amazing story with the neighbors and friends.
The other old woman of course learned the story. Since her family blamed her for not able to do anything for them while the lady next door get herself and her family trees of rice, she decided to do the same thing — tend for the sparrows and get the seeds. For the next few days, she threw stones at the sparrows stopped by in her yard and successfully hit one. However, to make sure she would get the magical seeds, she continued to do so till she got three injured sparrows in total. She then tends for the wounded sparrows just as her neighbor did, and let them go once they were healed. The three sparrows did come back with seeds, and the old woman planted them in her yard as well. The next day, just as she expected, there grew trees of huge gourds. She took gourds inside with her family and cut them open, excited to store all those rice for themselves. However, it was not rice in it but poisonous snacks and bugs. The woman and her family were all bite and died.
Animal tales seems to be popular i Japan. In fact, this informant shared several animal tales with me, and every each of these tales were seemed to aim at teaching people a moral lesson through animals — this story would be a lesson of not to be jealous and greedy but to be kind. The ending of the story seemed to be a bit extreme but I think only through exaggeration the folklore could send out the message and warn people. A funny thing is, there is a similar Chinese folklore that every thing is the same except the old women were brothers in the Chinese version.