Tsuru Nyōbō is a Japanese folk legend about a man who helps a crane.
“There once lived a young man in Japan. One day, a crane plummets to his feet from the air and the man sees that the crane has been shot down by an arrow. He helped the crow heal and regain flying by treating the wound. The young man let the crane go, warning it of hunters, then the crane flew around the man’s head three times to thank him before taking off.
When the young man got home at night, there was a beautiful woman waiting for him, who stated that she was now his wife. When the man tells the woman that he cannot support her due to his wealth status, the woman stated that she has plenty of rice and started cooking dinner. The rice sack never depleted, and the two started to live together.
One day the woman asked the man for a weaving room. Once completed, she warned the man to never look inside the room and went into the room for seven days. She came out with a very beautiful weaved cloth. Then she told the man go sell it at the market at a high price, which he did.
The man became curious of the wife’s weaving skills, especially because she had no thread. When he looked inside the room ignoring his wife’s warnings, he saw a crane pulling its feathers off to weave into cloth. The crane realized the man was peeking, identified itself as the crane that the man saved, and the crane decided to become the wife of the man to repay him for the debt of its life. However, because the man now knew of the crane’s true form, the crane could no longer stay with him. It threw the cloth it just finished weaving to the man as something to remember [the crane] by and abandons him.”
I collected this from my Japanese friend that I befriended during my times studying abroad in Shanghai, China. She says that Tsuru Nyōbō significant to her because when she first heard of the story during her childhood, she was amazed by the selflessness of the crane and its loyalty to repay debt.
The moral of Tsuru Nyōbō is to not break promises that we made. Although the man is a kind and caring man for taking care of the crane, he made the mistake of breaking the promise that he made to his wife, which led to losing all the benefits of the crane and additionally losing a loved one.
The numbers three and seven can be seen in this story. The crane swirls three times above the young man’s head to communicate its thanks to the man. The wife was in the weaving room for seven days. The presence of these numbers are significant as they play a role in shaping our cosmological view. When children are subjected to folkloric stories with specific numbers being very prevalent, e.g. three, they grow up believing that there are ‘natural’ qualities beyond its value and significant just as a number.