Baka Musako found it hard to understand and remember things from one day to another. But one day his father and mother decided he should have a job. They owned a shop and they suggested he should go out into to the market and sell some of their produce
They put a basket on his back with chestnuts and persimmon and juice in it, and gave him a package of tea to carry. His mother gave him some advice,
“Do your best. You have to call out the names of what you are selling, in a very big voice,understand? ”
“Yes I understand” said Baka Musako.
“Well, good luck. ”, said his mother.
Off went Baka Musako, and so he could remember what he had, he kept saying to himself “Tea (cha) Chestnuts (kuri) Persimmons (kari) and juice (su). Walking round the streets, he he called out “Teachestnutpersimmonjuice” (Cha-kuri-kari-su. Buy my lovely Cha-kuri-kari-su”. Well, his voice was good and loud, but no-one could make out what he was selling, it sounded so strange. So he came home without selling anything. His parents asked if he had done as they told him. “Oh yes, “ he said, “I called out just as you said - Cha-kuri-kari-su. Buy my lovely Cha-kuri-kari-su”. “Oh you foolish boy!” said his mother. “Listen, you have to say the words separately one by one: Tea,then separately, Chestnuts then separately Persimmon then separately juice (Cha wa – betsubetsu, kuri wa betsubetsu, kari- wa – betsubetsu, su). Have you got that?” “Yes, I get it” said Baka Musako. So the next day, back he went out to the streets, and this time he called out, just as his mother had told him, “Cha –wa – betsubetsu- kuri- wa – betsubetsu-kari- wa – betsubetsu –su Buy my lovely Cha –wa – betsubetsu- kuri- wa – betsubetsu-kari- wa – betsubetsu –su). Once again, nobody could understand him at all and nobody bought anything. Baka Musako went sadly home.
Note: This is the usual ending of the story, but I am glad to say that on the Mukashi cartoon website, a kind market stall holder helps Baka Musako, and shows him how to set his wares out on a stall and call out – Buy my lovely tea etc.
About this story
I heard this story from storyteller Fujiko Ishii. There are many stories in Japan about Baka Musako, or foolish sons (funnily enough, not daughters!) who misunderstand instructions. These stories are highly suggestive of the problems of children who have difficulties understanding language, especially social language, and who may take words very literally (see below). Of course, as your sharp eared pupils will spot, Baka Musako may have his problems, but surely his mother and father have recognised by this time how to help him avoid misunderstandings!
•A chance to taste some different foods – Japanese tea, chestnuts, persimmons and mild rice vinegar. Then decide on your own combination of foods to say all in one go.
•Think about what else is being sold in the market, and create some other street vendors.
•Find out about traditional market calls in the UK and other places.
•Practise calling out with a loud voice and a soft voice.
•Well – whose problem is it? And how can you help Baka Musako resolve it? What should he be calling out?
•Older children might like to share stories of when they were little and misunderstood song lyrics – the most well known examples being Gladly my cross-eyed bear (from a hymn) .
Lazy Jack, collected by Joseph Jacobs in the 19thC is an English folk tale which is very like the Baka Musako stories (and has the added benefit of a deaf heroine). http://www.fullbooks.com/English-Fairy-Tales3.html. Other stories have Jack tricked into carrying a donkey on his back, or exchanging money for one thing after another until he finally ends up with a large rock, which he drops in the river (deciding that he is better off without these burdensome possessions, a piece of real folk wisdom!).