[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Japanese Fairy Tales (Ozaki) unit. Story source: Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki (1908).
The Story of the Man Who Did Not Wish to Die
One day, without any reason whatsoever, the thought of death and sickness came to him. The idea of falling ill or dying made him very wretched.
"I should like to live," he said to himself, "till I am five or six hundred years old at least, free from all sickness. The ordinary span of a man's life is very short."
He wondered whether it were possible, by living simply and frugally henceforth, to prolong his life as long as he wished. He knew there were many stories in ancient history of emperors who had lived a thousand years, and there was a Princess of Yamato, who, it was said, lived to the age of five hundred. This was the latest story of a very long life record.
Sentaro had often heard the tale of the Chinese King named Shin-no-Shiko. He was one of the most able and powerful rulers in Chinese history. He built all the large palaces, and also the famous great wall of China. He had everything in the world he could wish for, but in spite of all his happiness and the luxury and the splendor of his Court, the wisdom of his councilors and the glory of his reign, he was miserable because he knew that one day he must die and leave it all.
When Shin-no-Shiko went to bed at night, when he rose in the morning, as he went through his day, the thought of death was always with him. He could not get away from it. Ah-if only he could find the "Elixir of Life," he would be happy.
The Emperor at last called a meeting of his courtiers and asked them all if they could not find for him the "Elixir of Life" of which he had so often read and heard.
One old courtier, Jofuku by name, said that far away across the seas there was a country called Horaizan, and that certain hermits lived there who possessed the secret of the "Elixir of Life." Whoever drank of this wonderful draught lived forever.
The Emperor ordered Jofuku to set out for the land of Horaizan to find the hermits and to bring him back a phial of the magic elixir. He gave Jofuku one of his best junks, fitted it out for him, and loaded it with great quantities of treasures and precious stones for Jofuku to take as presents to the hermits.
Jofuku sailed for the land of Horaizan, but he never returned to the waiting Emperor — but ever since that time, Mount Fuji has been said to be the fabled Horaizan and the home of hermits who had the secret of the elixir, and Jofuku has been worshiped as their patron god.
Now Sentaro determined to set out to find the hermits and, if he could, to become one so that he might obtain the water of perpetual life. He remembered that as a child he had been told that not only did these hermits live on Mount Fuji, but that they were said to inhabit all the very high peaks.
So he left his old home to the care of his relatives and started out on his quest. He traveled through all the mountainous regions of the land, climbing to the tops of the highest peaks, but never a hermit did he find.
At last, after wandering in an unknown region for many days, he met a hunter.
"Can you tell me," asked Sentaro, "where the hermits live who have the Elixir of Life?"
"No," said the hunter, "I can't tell you where such hermits live, but there is a notorious robber living in these parts. It is said that he is chief of a band of two hundred followers."
This odd answer irritated Sentaro very much, and he thought how foolish it was to waste more time in looking for the hermits in this way, so he decided to go at once to the shrine of Jofuku, who is worshiped as the patron god of the hermits in the south of Japan.