Nehyôe, a handsome and successful white mouse, marries a beautiful mouse, and together they have many children—they are mice after all. Nevertheless she’s a bit high-maintenance, and one day when she is pregnant again, she orders her ‘ever-obedient’ husband to fetch the shoulder of a goose that she’s been craving. Only he’s a stumblebum and grabs the goose’s chest instead of the goose’s shoulder, and he soon finds himself swept far away from his wife and kids and his home. He is taken in by a kind mouse couple who are certain he is the embodiment of Daikukoten, one of the seven gods of great fortune, and they treat him with the utmost respect. In return the couple prospers. After several months, just when Nehyôe has lost all hope that he would ever make it home, the wife has a dream that she must return him by boat to his family. Shortly thereafter he is back home in the arms of his wife and children, while their lives and those of the mouse couple become blessed with an abundance of riches.
If you are in New York City, or plan on visiting in the near future—that is before May 6, take a moment and hop to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view the show “Storytelling in Japanese Art.” It’s fanciful and entertaining and a sheer delight to see. This “Tale of Mice” is rolled out in an ‘ink and color on paper’ 1 that dates back to the Edo period, sometime in the late 17th century. Accompanying the painting and the text of the story is a note that tells us that the Japanese would pass around this auspicious tale on New Year’s day to bring them good luck in the coming year.
1 Spencer Collection: The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations (image reproduced for non-commercial use only)