Once upon a time, there was a tiny fishing village on the edge of the sea, and near this village, there was a tall mountain. Atop the mountain lived an old man and his grandson, Yoshi. Everyone knew the man. They knew him because there, on the mountain terraces, the people grew their rice.
The old man owned most of the mountain, but he was a generous fellow, and he allowed the people to plant their rice here. There was no room below. The village was tiny, crowded with many houses, and the sea was so close, they had room only for the docks where they kept their fishing boats.
Every day the people climbed up the mountain to work the terraced rice fields. The little boy often helped them, for he loved nothing more than to walk through the tall, waving rice, listen to the songs the people sang, and hear the tales they told of his grandfather.
“He is a good man, a wealthy man,” the fisher folk said. “He could ruin our lives if he wished, but he is generous.”
Yoshi smiled when he heard the people speak about his grandfather this way.
And then one day, late in the afternoon, after the people had finished their day’s work and returned to the village, the little boy was walking toward his home when he suddenly stopped in his tracks.
His grandfather was standing in front of their house. This by itself was not unusual, for his grandfather often met him as he returned home from the fields. But when he did, he usually smiled and laughed, and sometimes even ran to greet his little grandson. He never looked as he did now, solemn and still, staring out at the sea in the distance.
The little boy could tell something was wrong. “Grandfather,” he called, but his grandfather did not answer. He only stared harder, his eyes turning as dark as black marbles.
“Grandfather,” the boy called again, and when he did, his grandfather looked up suddenly, as if drawn out of a trance.
“Grandson, hurry; Follow me and do as I say.”
The little boy always did as his grandfather asked, and so he ran toward the house and followed his grandfather inside.
His grandfather was at the fire. “Quick,” he said. “Grab a stick from the fire.”
Yoshi had no idea why his grandfather would ask him to do such a thing, but he was an obedient child. He pulled a stick from the fire and his grandfather did the same.
“Now follow me,” his grandfather commanded, and he ran after the old man, chasing him out to the fields.
“Now,” said his grandfather, “set the fields on fire.”
“What?” the little boy exclaimed, aghast. He was certain that his grandfather must be joking. Why would they set fire to this rice? Why would they destroy all the hard work of the people, and all their food? “We can’t …”
But then the boy saw that his grandfather was already burning the rice. He had hurled his burning stick into a dry rice field, which caught fire, crackling and flaming, and leaping toward the other fields.
“Oh, Grandfather,” Yoshi cried, tears falling from his eyes.
His grandfather turned and shouted, “Now! Burn the rice now!” Without another moment’s hesitation, the little boy tossed his burning stick into the field.
The blaze began to spread, streaking across the fields, burning everything it touched, rising higher and hotter and brighter. The boy’s face was wet with tears as he watched the destruction of the fields.
And then he heard the sound. The people down below had seen their precious fields on fire, and they were running up to the burning fields as fast as they could. Everyone came, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. All were carrying buckets of water. “Come, come! Everyone must come!” the leaders cried frantically, for they were determined to save their crop.
When they reached the burning fields, they stopped. They were too late. The fields were blazing beyond their control. The whole village stood, open-mouthed. “What have you done?” they cried in anger to the old man. “Why have you destroyed all we worked for?”
The old man bowed his head. “I have burned your rice fields,” he said, “but look!” He pointed down below.
The villagers turned, and then they understood. Down where once the sea had been still and blue, a giant wall of water rose, higher and higher, and as it gained in height, it rolled toward the village.
Everyone gasped as the giant wave poured in over their village, smashing down upon their houses, their boats and docks, and stores. They clapped their hands to their ears as the crash-filled the air, and the mountain, once so still, seemed to sway.
“He saved us!” the village leader cried. “The old man is the most generous man in the world. He has saved us from a tsunami.”
From that day on, the little boy understood that things are not always what they seem to be, and that which looks cruel can sometimes be the greatest kindness.