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In a Japanese seaside village over a hundred years ago, an earthquake startled the villagers late one autumn evening. Being so accustomed to earthquakes and not feeling another follow, they soon went back to their activities without giving it another thought.


An old farmer was watching from his home on a high plain above the village. He looked out at the sea and noticed that the water appeared dark and was acting strangely, moving against the wind and running away from the land. The old man knew what that meant. His one thought was to warn the people in the village below. He called to his grandson, “Bring me a torch! Hurry!”


In the fields behind him lay his great crop of rice that was piled high in stacks that were ready for the market; it was worth a fortune. The old man hurried out to the stacks with his torch. In a flash the dry stalks were ablaze. Soon the big bell pealed from the temple below: Fire!



Back from the beach, away from the sea, up the steep side of the cliff came the people of the village, running as fast as they could. They were coming to try to save the crops of their neighbor. “He’s mad!” they said when they saw that he just stood there watching them come and staring out toward the sea.


As they reached the level of the fields the old man shouted at the top of his voice over the roaring of the flames while pointing toward the sea, “Look!” At the edge of the horizon they saw a long, thin, and faint line – a line that grew thicker as they watched.


That line was the sea, rising like a wall, getting higher and coming more and more swiftly as they stared. Then came the shock, heavier than thunder; the great wall of water struck the shore with a fierceness and a force that sent a shudder through the hills and tore the homes below into matchsticks. The water withdrew with a roaring sound. Then it returned and struck again, and again, and again.

One final time it struck and ebbed, then returned to its place and its pattern. On the plain no one spoke a word for a long while. Finally the voice of the old man could be heard, saying softly, gently, “That is why I set fire to the rice.”


He now stood among them just as poor as the poorest of them; his wealth was gone – all for the sake of 400 lives. By that sacrifice he will long be remembered, not by his wealth. He was not saddened by what his sacrifice cost him; he was overjoyed at what was saved.

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