This story is set in the time when monsters were still living up there in the mountains and down here in the forests. Granny Long Tongue and Red Ban the Ogre lived high up on Mt. Okuyama, at Okumata Pass. The woman’s tongue was longer than a snakevine, stronger than a stable boy’s whip. Red Ban’s face was broader than a cottage window, and when he bared his tusks and moved his face up close to yours, he was so scary that even the mountain bears rolled their eyes in fright.
Granny Long Tongue and Red Ban loved to frighten people who lost their way and wandered up to Okumata Pass. But lately no one came up the mountain anymore.
“Hey, Granny, do you think maybe we’ve already frightened all the humans?”
“Don’t be silly, Red Ban! There are as many humans as there are leaves on the trees. I’ve got an idea! Why don’t we go out and look for some people to frighten!”
Granny Long Tongue leapt up onto Red Ban’s shoulder. Galumph, galumph. They tramped down through the pass and into the forest. But now the forest was just an open space. All the trees had been chopped down, all the way to the foot of the mountain.
“Ah, there’s a nice breeze, and the view is much better than before!” said Red Ban.
This made Granny Long Tongue very mad.
“Don’t be silly! There isn’t a single tree left–they’ve cut them all down. We’ll have a flood on our hands when the rainy season comes. Red Ban, hurry on to the village! I have a bad feeling about this.”
Galumph, gaplomp, galumph, gaplomp. When they reached the foot of the mountain, they came to a big lake.
“Look: the path goes right into the lake! Hey, Granny, do you think the village is down there, under the water?”
“Don’t be silly! Since they chopped down all the trees and destroyed the forest, the soil and the logs on the mountain washed into the river and blocked its course. Come on, let’s hurry to the village. The sun is going down.”
Galump, galump, galump, galump. When they came to the edge of the village, they saw a pond without any water.
“Look, Granny, there’s a giant egg on the ground!”
“Don’t be silly! That’s a dragon pearl. This pond must belong to the dragon god who watches over the village. I guess the dragon went somewhere else when the water dried up. I hope everything is okay.”
Not a sound could be heard in the village. Not even the cackle of a chicken or the bark of a dog.
“I smell people!” cried Red Ban as he flung open the window of a nearby cottage.
Inside, two parents and their two children sat huddled on the floor, looking very tired, hugging their knees to their chests.
“Look at me! I’m Granny Long Tongue!”
She uncoiled her tongue like a whip and licked everyone’s heads all over, around and around. But they just pulled in their necks a bit, and that was all.
“What’s up with you people? Aren’t you afraid of monsters?” said Granny Long Tongue, a puzzled look on her face.
The father replied in a tiny voice: “We don’t have the energy to be frightened, even if we wanted to be. We haven’t had a bite to eat since yesterday. Ever since the river dried up, we can’t grow any more rice or potatoes.”
“Well then, why don’t you draw water from the lake?”
“We’re too scared to go near it. Every time we go there, the ground begins to shake and quake. There’s nothing left for us to do but ask you monsters to help us. Won’t you please open a hole in the bank so the water will flow back into the river?”
When someone is in trouble, even a monster has to help. Granny Long Tongue hurried to the lake with Red Ban.
“All right, Red Ban, we’re going to make a hole in the bank and let the water flow!”
“But Granny, our job as monsters is to frighten humans. Why should we help them?”
“When the humans feel better, they’ll be scared of us again, right?”
So Granny Long Tongue and Red Ban set about carrying away the big logs that had dammed up the lake.
The water was just about to start flowing back into the river when they heard a voice so loud it made the water shake.
“Hey you! What do you think you’re doing!”
Looking back, they saw a dragon glaring down at them, so gigantic he almost filled the lake.
“Goodness gracious, look how big you are! You must be the dragon who used to live in the dragon god’s pond. How did you get so big?”
“We dragons are like that. If we live in a pond, we grow as big as the pond. If we live in a lake, we grow as big as the lake. And if we fly up into the sky, we can grow as big as the clouds.”
The dragon came closer, whirling its two long whiskers around and around.
“I’m going to teach a lesson to the people who emptied the pond where I lived! But before I do, I’m going to get rid of you two!”
“Oh my, oh my! Run away, Red Ban!”
Granny wrapped her tongue around a tree as she fled into the forest. But Red Ban was too slow. In the blink of an eye he was tangled in the dragon’s whiskers and hoisted high up into the air.
“Red Ban, I’ll save you! Hang in there!”
Granny wrapped her long tongue around the dragon’s whiskers and pulled with all her might.
“Ouch! Yow! Get your tongue off me!” shouted the dragon, whipping his whiskers around and around.
Red Ban slipped free of the dragon’s whiskers and plunged into the lake. Kerplash! And then, wonder of wonders, Granny Long Tongue bounded up into the dragon’s nose.
Aah-aahh-aaahhh-CHOOOOO! The dragon let fly a huge, thundering sneeze, so powerful that it sent the water in the lake rushing toward the shore. All of a sudden, a hole opened in the bank. The water streamed into the river like a flash flood, and Granny Long Tongue and Red Ban were both swept off toward the village.
The water carried them all the way to the dragon god’s pond.
“Hey Granny, the dragon’s pond is back to normal!”
“Look at that, Red Ban! There in the water, it’s the dragon pearl! See how beautifully it shines!”
The dragon pearl shone in seven different colors. Granny Long Tongue held it up to the sky and called out to the dragon.
“Hey dragon! Your pearl is beautiful again, just like it used to be! Be a good dragon and go back inside! This is your home!”
Hearing this, the dragon turned into mist and vanished inside the pearl. Granny Long Tongue set the pearl down very gently in the deepest part of the pond.
Now everything in the village was back to normal. But Granny Long Tongue had a scary look on her face.
“All those crazy things happened because you cut down all the trees in the forest,” she told the villagers. “Go right now and plant trees on the mountains so the forest will grow again, just like it was before.”
So the villagers went and planted trees on the mountains, just as Granny Long Tongue said. Each year the trees grew bigger, and the forest came back again, just as it used to be. Now everything was fine, even when it rained very hard. And when the villagers came to the forest, they would pretend to get lost and go to Granny Long Tongue’s hut. They would stay there till the sun set, letting her long tongue lick their heads while Red Ban frightened them. They were all very happy together, the best of friends.
Lawrence Venuti thanks Dr. Kayoko Nohara of the Tokyo Institute of Technology.
First published as Shitanaga-basan (Tokyo: Shogakukan, 2001). Copyright 2001 by Shogakukan. By arrangement with the publisher. Illustration by Wu Jianhua.