Japanese Tsunami Folk tale to Tell in This Time of Tragedy

The Wave Japanese woodblock

When I first started telling stories, I learned this Japanese folk tale when I was a member of  Spellbinders volunteer storytellers.

An old man tended his rice fields high up on a mountain. One day, he saw the sea recede and the great wave coming for the shore. He did not know what to do, but he knew that something had to be done immediately to warn his friends, family and the villagers down below on the shore. In an instant, the answer came to him. He set fire to his house and rice fields. Instantly the flames engulfed his wooden house and rice fields, sending out thick plumes of black smoke.

“Look!” The village people cried out. “There is a fire on the mountain! We must go and help!”

All of the village people climbed up the mountain to help the farmer put out his fire, just in time to escape the giant tsunami wave that was headed their way and would destroy their village.


The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters that hit Japan are an intense and devastating event. It has shaken all of us to our core and presents us face to face with life, death and humanity. The ability to react to such an event in compassion creates wisdom and awakens our humanity. I offer this story to tell, discuss and heal in this tragic time, as my prayers go out to the people of Japan and all of those with family and loved ones there. Additionally, the nuclear catastrophe will affect us all.

With such intense disaster comes lessons. I find it amazing to go to bed one night and then wake up and the world is permanently changed. Such sublime events affect us all deeply on a collective level. Telling stories and connecting can help us process these intense emotions and feelings. The process of hearing a story takes us on a journey where we experience something and the symbols have deep messages for us. The outcome gives us a decisive plan of action as we have rehearsed for the possible tragedy. Tell this story especially with children to help calm their fears and discuss sacrifice, love of one's neighbor and heroism. How can we find compassion to help the people of Japan? How has this disaster put us in touch with our own fears and anxiety about tragedy and death? How do we value what we have in this very instant? As the next instant it may vanish.

I remember reading as a child Pearl S. Buck’s classic The Big Wave about a tsunami. It has lessons for us all of how to live with danger and be present to our lives.

“We must learn to live with danger, “ said Kino’s father.

“Do you mean the ocean and the volcano cannot hurt us if we are not afraid?” Kino asked.”

“No,” his father replied. “I did not say that. Ocean is there and volcano is there. It is true that on any day ocean may rise into storm an volcano may burst into flame. We must accept this fate, but without fear. We must say, “Someday we shall die, and does it matter whether it is by ocean or volcano, or whether I grow old and weak?”

“I don’t want to think about such things,” Kino said.

“It is right for you not to think about them then,” his father said. “Then do not be afraid. When you are afraid, you are thinking about them all the time. Enjoy life and do not fear death – that is the way of a good Japanese.”

Tell stories. Practice yoga. Gather the ones you love around you. Live each moment as if it were your last. Make sure you are doing what you want to be doing, or make changes. Life is precious. These are the lessons of the tsunami and the lessons at the heart of yoga. My love and prayers are with all.

Namaste and have a Magical Day,



2018-01-03T00:24:10+00:00March 14th, 2011|Children's Storytelling, Children's Yoga|


  1. Jenni Cargill-Strong March 15, 2011 at 5:09 am - Reply

    Beautiful!! I forgot about that story- I may tell that one in my daughters class and at our local celebration of World Storytelling Day.

  2. Aruna March 15, 2011 at 8:34 am - Reply

    Thanks for this powerful story. It shows that in times of disaster all we can do is to help one another. I will use it in my kids yoga classes this week.

  3. Samiksha March 16, 2011 at 3:17 am - Reply

    This was one that we had learned as kids in our English Books and I had realized back then that this one had a great message in it. Rising above self to help others is needed in times of calamities.

  4. Kavita Garg March 23, 2011 at 12:31 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story…i did my kids yoga class based on this story and the kids loved it!!They themselves came up with answers on what the story was trying to tell us…the message went clearly of helping others!! I also showed them books on earthquakes and volcanoes to clear all the doubts in their minds and was happy to take up this topic.Thanks again….

  5. Sydney Solis March 23, 2011 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    So glad that all of you found this story useful. Stories have an enormous power to heal, especially during times of crisis and trauma. I will be writing more on this in the near future. My prayers to all in Japan and the world, and to children everywhere. Sydney

  6. Laura Mankowsky March 28, 2011 at 7:59 am - Reply

    Wow! Thank you Syd. this is just perfect for coping with the monstrocity of suffering in Japan at this time.

  7. […] additional ideas on helping children cope with the tragedies in Japan please visit Japanese Tsunami Folk tale to Tell in this Time of Tragedy on the Storytime Yoga Blog. 1 person likes this post. Unlike […]

  8. […] additional ideas on helping children cope with the tragedies in Japan please visit Japanese Tsunami Folk tale to Tell in this Time of Tragedy on the Storytime Yoga Blog. Teacher, author and expert on yoga for kids and […]

  9. robert March 15, 2013 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    I remember when i read this folktale as a child, that the villagers ran into the ocean to gather beautiful shells after the waters receded. They could not foresee the impending danger that the grandfather saw from atop the mountain, or knew from his wisdom of history. I also remember his grandson was with him on the mountain and though that his grandfather had gone insane when he began setting fire to the fields. when first i read this story as a child i thought it was beyond fictional, that the sea level could drop and then rise with a furry. Then after the recent tsunamis happened, i thought again of this story, and i realized it could be based on historical true life stories.

    • Sydney March 17, 2013 at 12:04 pm - Reply

      Thank you for sharing! Beautiful images in the details of the shells and the boy thinking the old man insane for his actions! I think that’s why these stories were made, instructional stories, to educate people about the warning signs of tsunami.

  10. […] additional ideas on helping children cope with the tragedies in Japan please visit Japanese Tsunami Folk tale to Tell in this Time of Tragedy on the Storytime Yoga […]

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