The Story of the Aged Mother: A Folktale for Mother’s Day


It’s Mother’s Day! Today is the day we celebrate all the mothers in our lives – even the fictional ones (okay, maybe I’m the only one that does that). However, think about it – mothers play a prominent role in scribbles and scripts of all types and from all corners of the world! Think about it! There’s Mrs. March from Little Women, Mrs. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, the Evil Stepmother from Cinderella, Mrs. Weasley from the Harry Potter series, and then there’s also the elderly mother from the Japanese folktale, The Story of the Aged Mother.

Written by Matsuo Basho, The Story of the Aged Mother tells the tale of a poor farmer who lived with his aged mother in a time long, long ago. They had an overall peaceful and happy existence, but the land upon which they lived was governed by a tyrannical, warrior leader who disliked anything that was of failing health and deteriorating strength. Therefore, he sent out a proclamation that called for all elderly people to be put to death.

Though the farmer loved his aged mother dearly, he couldn’t disobey an order from the governor and so, with a heavy heart, he led his mother to the desolate mountain summit known as Obatsuyama (meaning, “‘abandoning of the aged”). Along the journey, the boy had trouble navigating the difficult paths of the mountain and so there was much reckless turning around, stopping, and doubling-back as they made their way along. Her loving heart growing anxious at the thought of her son becoming lost and perishing on his return journey from the summit, the aged mother decided to snap twigs off the branches as they made their way along and broke them into pieces that she tossed along the path, making a trail for him to follow.

Finally reaching the summit, the farmer made his mother comfortable before bidding his last farewell. Her voice strong with love and unselfishness in her last message to her son, the aged mother revealed to the farmer that she had made a trail of twigs for him to follow so that he would be safe on his return journey home. Struck by her love for him, the farmer made a vow of devotion and proclaimed that he would not leave his mother and that together they would follow the path of twigs back down the summit and that they would die with each other.

Back once more in their humble home, the farmer hid his mother and, for a time, it seemed that all was once again peaceful. However, the governor soon wielded his power yet again, this time with the unreasonable order that everyone was to make a rope of ashes. The farmer informed the aged mother of the unreasonable request and the aged mother (with the wisdom that she had acquired throughout her years) told him to make a rope that was twisted of straw and burned upon flat stones on a windless night.

The farmer did as he was told and soon presented the rope of ashes to the governor, who praised him for his wit and demanded to know where he had achieved such wisdom. It was then that the son revealed the whole story of saving his mother from being left to die and of her assistance in creating the rope of ashes. The governor listened to his story and at last recognized that the land needed more than the strength and vitality of youth and abolished the cruel law.

And so ends The Story of the Aged Mother, but not without touching upon the fact that our mothers are devoted, wise, and loving members of our lives and that should be rightly celebrated. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the real (and fictional) mothers today!


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