In Yamato province, there lived a farmer named Miyata Akinosuke. In his garden there was an ancient cedar tree. One afternoon he was sitting under this tree with two of his friends, chatting and drinking wine, when he felt all of a sudden very drowsy – so drowsy that he begged his friends to excuse him for taking a nap in their presence. Then he lay down at the foot of the tree, and dreamed this dream:
As he laid there in his garden, he saw a grand procession, more imposing than anything he had ever seen before, and it was advancing toward his dwelling. Young men, richly clothed, were drawing a great lacquered palace-carriage hung with bright blue silk. When the procession arrived within a short distance of the house it halted; and a richly dressed man advanced from it, approached Akinosuke, bowed to him profoundly, and said: “Honored sir: the king, the Kokuo of Tokoyo, commands me to greet you in his august name. Please immediately enter this carriage, which he has sent for your convenience.”
Upon hearing these words Akinosuke wanted to make some fitting reply; but he was too much astonished for speech. He entered the carriage and the journey began.
In a very short time, to Akinosuke’s amazement, the carriage stopped in front of a huge two-storied gateway of a Chinese style. After some little waiting, two noble-looking men came from the gateway wearing robes of purple silk and high caps of lofty rank. They bowed to him and led him to a palace whose front appeared to extend a distance of miles.
Akinosuke was shown into a reception-room of wonderful size and splendor. Serving-maids, in costume of ceremony, brought refreshments. When Akinosuke had partaken, the two purple-robed attendants bowed before him and addressed him, each speaking alternately according to the etiquette of courts: “It is now our honorable duty to inform you . . . as to the reason of your having been summoned hither . . . . Our master, the King, augustly desires that you become his son-in-law . . . and it is his wish and command that you shall wed this very day . . . the Princess, his maiden-daughter . . . . “
Having thus spoken, the attendants rose together and attired Akinosuke as befit a princely bridegroom, and conducted him to the presence-room, where the Kokuo of Tokoyo was seated upon his throne, wearing a high black cap of state, and robes of yellow silk. The king greeted him with gracious words, and then said: “The wedding shall now be performed.” Joyful music played and beautiful court ladies advanced from behind a curtain to conduct Akinosuke to the room in which the bride awaited him. The room was immense; but it could scarcely contain the multitude of guests. All bowed down before Akinosuke as he took his place, facing the king’s daughter, on the kneeling-cushion prepared for him. The bride appeared like a maid of heaven; her robes were beautiful as a summer sky. After the wedding the couple received the congratulations of many noble persons, and wedding gifts beyond counting.
Some days later Akinosuke was again summoned to the throne-room. On this occasion he was received even more graciously than before; and the King said to him: “In the south-western part of Our dominion there is an island called Raishu. We have now appointed you Governor of that island. You will find the people loyal and docile; we entrust you with the duty of improving their social conditions and ruling them with kindness and wisdom.” So Akinosuke and his bride departed from the palace of Tokoyo.
Akinosuke entered at once upon his new duties; and they did not prove to be hard. During the first three years of his governorship he was occupied chiefly with the enactment of laws; but he had wise counselors to help him, and he never found the work unpleasant. When it was all finished, the country was so healthy and so fertile that sickness and want were unknown; and the people were so good that no laws were ever broken.
Akinosuke dwelt and ruled in Raishu for twenty years more, during which no shadow of sorrow traversed his life. But in the twenty-fourth year, a great misfortune came upon him, for his wife, who had borne him five boys and two girls, fell sick and died. She was buried, with high pomp, on the summit of a beautiful hill; and a monument, exceedingly splendid, was placed upon her grave. But Akinosuke felt such grief at her death that he no longer cared to live.
Now when the period of mourning was over, there came from the Tokoyo palace a royal messenger with condolences. “We will now send you back to your people and country,” he added. “As for the seven children, they are the grandchildren of the King, and shall be fitly cared for. Do not, therefore , allow you mind to be troubled about them.”
On receiving this mandate, Akinosuke submissively prepared for his departure. When all his affairs had been settled, he was escorted with much honor to the port. There he embarked, and the ship sailed out into the blue sea, and the shape of the island of Raishu itself turned blue, then grey, and then vanished forever . . . . And Akinosuke suddenly awoke, under the cedar tree in his own garden!
For a moment he was stupefied and dazed. But he perceived his two friends still seated near him, drinking and chatting merrily. He stared at them in a bewildered way, and cried aloud: “How strange!”
“Akinosuke must have been dreaming,” on exclaimed with a laugh. “What did you see, Akinosuke, that was strange?” Then Akinosuke told his dream of three-and-twenty years’ sojourn on the island of Raishu, and they were astonished, because he had really slept for no more than a few minutes.
His friend said: “Indeed, you saw strange things. We also saw something strange while you were napping. A little yellow butterfly was fluttering over your face for a moment or two. Then it alighted on the ground beside you, close to the tree; and a big ant seized it and pulled it down into the hole. Just before you woke up, we saw that butterfly come out of the hole again, and flutter over your face as before. And then the butterfly suddenly disappeared – we do not know where.”
“Perhaps it was Akinosuke’s soul,” the other friend said. “I thought I saw it fly into his mouth. But, even if that butterfly was Akinosuke’s soul, the fact would not explain his dream.”
“The ants might explain it,” returned the first speaker. “Ants are queer beings – possibly goblins . . . . Anyhow, there is a big ant’s nest under that cedar tree . . . . “ “Let us look!” cried Akinosuke. He went for a spade.
The ground beneath the cedar tree proved to have been excavated, in a most surprising way, by a prodigious colony of ants. The ants had furthermore built things inside their excavations; and their tiny constructions of straw, clay, and stems bore an odd resemblance to miniature towns. In the middle of a structure considerably larger than the rest there was a marvelous swarm of small ants around one very big ant, which had yellowish wings and a long black head.
“Why, there is the King of my dream!” cried Akinosuke. “And there is the palace of Tokoyo! How extraordinary! Raishu ought to lie somewhere southwest of it – to the left of that big root . . . . Yes! Here it is! How very strange! Now I am sure I can find the mountain, and the grave of the princess . . . . “
In the wreck of the nest he searched, and at last discovered a tiny mound, on the top of which was fixed a water-worn pebble, in shape resembling a Buddhist monument. Underneath it he found, embedded in clay, the dead body of a female ant.