'The Rice Cakes And The Oni' | Circle Round 5

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Okay, everybody. Let’s start today’s episode... with a joke.


Why was six... afraid of seven?

Do you know? Have you heard this one before?

Because seven eight nine!

Get it? Seven ate nine…?

Alright, so maybe it’s not the funniest joke in the world. But in just a moment, we’ll meet a boy who loves telling jokes - funny jokes. And those jokes get him out of a rather sticky situation.

Japan, an island nation in Asia, is where today’s story takes place. It comes from a folktale people have been telling in Japan for years and years. This version is called“The Rice Cakes and the Oni.”

What is an “oni,” you ask? We’ll find out soon!

This episode features Tamlyn Tomita ("The Good Doctor"), Hudson Yang ("Fresh Off The Boat"), and Corey Harris.  This story was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir and Jessica Alpert.  Sound design by Eric Shimelonis.  Casting by Amy Lippens, CSA.

Adults: Print out this picture and let your listeners color along with the episode.

Things To Think About After Listening

Let’s say you want to tell a joke that will make the oni laugh and laugh. Maybe you already know one. Maybe you want to use your imagination to make one up. Either way, your joke can be as silly and as zany as you’d like. Find someone you like to have fun with, and tell them your joke. Maybe they’ll tell you one, too!

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: A long time ago… in a village by the sea… there lived a woman named Mayumi and her son, Haru. Everyone knew Mayumi and Haru, because of the delicious rice cakes they sold at the market.

Thanks to an old family recipe, Mayumi and Haru made rice cakes that were crispy, light and perfectly round, just like a wheel. Every night, after dinnertime and homework-time, they would cook their rice cakes in the kitchen, with Haru telling jokes to entertain his mother.

HARU: So, Mama: why are fish so smart?

MAYUMI: I don’t know, son. Why are fish so smart?

HARU: Because they swim in SCHOOLS!

NARRATOR: Like everyone in the village, Mayumi and Haru lived in a house perched high on a mountain. It was a peaceful place, but everyone knew that in a cave at the bottom of the mountain, right by the sea, lived three big monsters. They were called... the oni. But they only came out at night, so few people had ever actually seen them.

One evening, Haru decided he was going to cook the best batch of rice cakes ever. While his mother drifted off to sleep, Haru was wide awake in the kitchen.

MAYUMI: Haru, it’s time to rest. I have a long day at the market tomorrow, and you have a long day at school.

HARU: I know, mama. I just want to finish this batch. These rice cakes are going to be perfect!

NARRATOR: By the time Haru finished, he was tired. But he wanted to make sure the rice cakes were perfect. So he took one from the pan, and went outside to taste it. He was worried the crunch would wake his mother!

But just as he was about to take a bite… Haru was overcome by exhaustion… and he fell asleep!

A few minutes later, he woke with a start. He must have dropped his rice cake, for now it was on the ground, rolling down the mountain!

HARU: Mama! Mama! Our rice cakes with our special recipe! I dropped one, and now it’s headed toward the sea! I must go get it!

NARRATOR: Haru’s shouting jolted Mayumi out of her slumber. She called out through the window.

MAYUMI: Haru! Come back here! You mustn’t tangle with the Oni! Who knows what those monsters will do…?!?

NARRATOR: But she was too late. Haru had already raced down the mountain. Now he watched helplessly as his rice cake rolled into the enormous hands... of an oni. The oni took off running on his hairy legs.

HARU: Come back here, oni! I want my rice cake back!

NARRATOR: By now, Mayumi had jumped out of bed and scurried down the mountain after her son.

MAYUMI: Haru! Stop! Stop!

NARRATOR: Mayumi chased after Haru, and Haru chased after the oni. They all ended up in the oni’s dark cave by the sea. Mayumi grabbed Haru’s hand as the oni spun around to face them, with his sharp eyes and large, pointy ears.

ONI: We oni have heard how famous you are for your light, crispy rice cakes. Now I shall see whether it is true!

NARRATOR: He lifted the rice cake to his enormous lips. Mayumi and Haru heard a loud crunch... followed by a noisy gulp.

ONI: Mmmmmm. Delicious!

NARRATOR: Mayumi and Haru felt a wave of relief wash over them. But then?

ONI: In fact, this rice cake is so delicious… you must make more... for all of us!

NARRATOR: Suddenly, three more oni came lumbering into the cave… and they looked hungry.

Mayumi knew what she and Haru must do. Better that the oni eat their rice cakes… than eat them!

MAYUMI: Alright, Oni. We will make your rice cakes. But we’ll need a few things. First: a pot.

NARRATOR: One of the oni tromped to the back of the cave and returned with a big black pot.

MAYUMI: Next, we’ll need a spoon.

NARRATOR: Another oni trudged to the back of the cave and came back with a long-handled wooden spoon.

MAYUMI: And finally: we’ll need time… time to make enough rice cakes for all of you. You no doubt have a serious appetite, and we wouldn’t want you to go hungry.

NARRATOR: The oni pointed at the spoon in Mayumi’s hand.

ONI: Well, it just so happens you’re in luck! This spoon... is a magic spoon! Tap it against the side of the pot, and instantly, rice will appear! Now, get cooking. If we can’t eat your rice cakes soon… we can always eat you!

NARRATOR: With that, the four oni shuffled to the other side of the cave... and Mayumi and Haru got ready to make the biggest, most important batch of rice cakes… of their lives.

Night after night, Mayumi would take a magic spoon and tap it against the pot. Rice would appear, and she and Haru would use the rice to make batch after batch of light, crispy rice cakes. The oni would devour the rice cakes, and then… come morning… they would fall fast asleep, snoring with their giant mouths wide open.

One morning, while the oni were snoozing, Haru looked at his mother with tears in his eyes.

HARU: Mama, I am so sorry. If I hadn’t let that rice cake roll down the mountain, we wouldn’t be in this mess. This whole thing is all my fault.

MAYUMI: Do not worry, my son. We will find a way to get out of here.

NARRATOR: That night, after the oni woke up and gobbled down another ten-thousand rice cakes, Mayumi gathered up her courage.

MAYUMI: Listen, Oni. We have fed you millions of rice cakes… enough rice cakes to reach the sun! Now we must go home.

NARRATOR: Haru squeezed his mother’s hand.

HARU: Yes, Oni. I am missing school and mama is missing the market.

ONI: Ha! You think you can leave? We will let you go when we’ve had enough rice cakes! And our big oni bellies are never full!

NARRATOR: The oni laughed so hard Mayumi and Haru could feel the walls of the cave rumbling. Mayumi pulled her son close.

MAYUMI:  Listen, Haru. I have a plan. The sun will soon come up and the oni will go to sleep. Once they’re snoring away, we will take the big black pot and drag it out of the cave, to the water. Then we’ll get inside and use it as a boat! We’ll float around the bay, to the other side of the mountain. Once we climb the mountain, we’ll be back home again!

NARRATOR: Haru’s eyes lit up at the thought of escaping by sea. For he knew that although the oni lived near the water, they didn’t like to get wet. They were so heavy that if they entered the sea, they’d sink like rocks!

HARU: What a wonderful idea! Mama, I promise I’ll never get us into another mess again.

MAYUMI: Well, my son, we will get out of this one… together!

NARRATOR: The next morning… after the sun came up and the oni went back to sleep... Mayumi and Haru tiptoed over to the big, black pot. Mayumi put the magic spoon in her pocket and together she and Haru dragged the pot to the shore. Then they climbed inside.

Mayumi took the magic spoon and shoved it against the shore. She let out a sigh of relief as the pot began to float away.

NARRATOR: But do you remember the oni’s giant, pointy ears? Well, those giant, pointy ears can pick up the smallest of sounds… like a mosquito flapping its wings on the other side of the world! So Mayumi’s sigh… quiet though it was… immediately woke all the oni up!

As Mayumi and Haru drifted on the water in the big black pot, they had no idea the oni were beginning to stir. Until…

HARU: Mama! What are all these fish doing, flapping and flopping around inside our pot?

MAYUMI: I don’t know, son! They’re flapping and flopping around outside the pot, too! The water… it’s disappearing!

NARRATOR: Mayumi’s heart sank as she looked back at the shore. There they were: the oni, all wide awake. She noticed that their cheeks and bellies were especially big and round.

MAYUMI: Could it be??? They’ve sucked up all the water from the bay!

NARRATOR: You see, the oni may hate getting wet, but they sure love a good drink of water! With their puffy cheeks and bloated bellies they began bounding toward Mayumi and Haru.

That’s when Mayumi had an idea.

MAYUMI: Son, quickly! Tell me a joke.

HARU: A joke? At a time like this? With all due respect mama, shouldn’t we get out and run?

MAYUMI: Haru… just like you do when we’re making rice cakes at home… TELL ME A JOKE.

HARU: Okay…..okay….. Ummm….a joke.

NARRATOR: Haru’s mind was racing.

HARU: Okay. Here goes. What is a whale’s favorite game to play?

NARRATOR: Mayumi smiled.

MAYUMI: I don’t know, son. What is a whale’s favorite game to play?

NARRATOR: Haru paused.


NARRATOR: Mayumi could never resist her son’s jokes, and this one was no different. Even though she was frightened, she began… to laugh.

NARRATOR: But she wasn’t the only one. With their giant, pointy ears, the oni had heard Haru’s joke, too...

NARRATOR: ...and now they were laughing... so hard that all the water came spilling out of their mouths! It filled up the bay until the fish were no longer flapping and flopping around.

HARU: Look, mama! The water is back!

MAYUMI: All thanks to your joke, my son! Now, let’s go!

NARRATOR: As the oni howled with laughter on the shore… Mayumi and Haru began floating away in the big black pot. They drifted around the bay until they reached the other side of the mountain. After climbing onto the rocky shore, they hiked back up to their house.

HARU (out of breath): Mama! We did it! But I have to admit: after such an adventure, I’m as hungry as an oni!

NARRATOR: Mayumi was hungry, too. But they’d been captured by the oni just before market day. So the kitchen was bare.

Frustrated, she shoved her hands in her pockets. That’s when she felt it:

MAYUMI:  The spoon!

NARRATOR: The magic spoon! From the oni! The one that made rice appear with a simple tap! Mayumi dashed over to her favorite pot.

MAYUMI: Here we go: tap, tap, tap!

NARRATOR: Suddenly, grains of rice began to appear. With each tap, there was more rice!

HARU: Mama! Food! Let’s eat!

MAYUMI: Alright, my son. We’ll make some rice cakes.

NARRATOR: She gave Haru a wink.

HARU: But maybe this time, we won’t let anything roll down the mountain…?

NARRATOR: Mayumi and Haru enjoyed a wonderful feast. And from then on, they always had enough to eat. The magic spoon… an unintentional gift from the oni... never let them down.

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Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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