A Ladder to the Moon

Naoko Awa
translated by Toshiya Kamei



Keiko was given a rabbit for her birthday. Not a toy, a real one. Small and cuddly, she had snow-white fur and brown eyes. She was a gift from Keiko’s great-grandmother, who walked with a cane and lived in a nearby town.

She told Keiko, “It’s easy to care for a rabbit. But there’s one thing you must remember. Rabbits love the moon. The moon also loves rabbits. So make sure your rabbit doesn’t escape on a full moon night.”

Keiko nodded, stroking the rabbit’s silky fur. The rabbit gazed up at Keiko.



Autumn came. To celebrate the Moon Festival, dango dumplings, susuki grasses, and gentian flowers were placed in the windows. But Keiko was a little worried. And when a round peach-colored moon rose and loomed large in the eastern sky, she became more worried. It seemed to stare at her and say, “Your rabbit will be mine.”

“Oh no, this is serious!” Keiko ran into the yard and peeked into the hutch. The rabbit sat quietly, legs tucked under, her eyes gleaming mysteriously.

“Mimi!” she called. But the rabbit kept gazing out into the sky. Her heart began to pound. She gathered Mimi into her arms and hurried back to her room.

Keiko laid Mimi on her bed. “You’ll sleep here tonight.” She locked the window and closed the curtains, but still she worried. The moonlight might seep through a narrow gap in the curtains. She covered Mimi with a blanket. “No need to worry now. You’re safe.” She went to sleep cradling the rabbit.

But a strange song woke her at an odd hour.

     “Lula, lula, lula,
     I weave a ladder from my own silver light
     Lu la la la
     Come, bunnies, from home take flight.
     Lu la la la
     Climb the ladder to me on this moon-lit night.”

Keiko sat up. The room was dimly lit. The curtains were swaying in the breeze. Mimi was gone.

She jumped out of bed and pulled back the curtains. The window she had locked tight was open, just enough for a rabbit to slip through. The moon’s song was spreading across the night sky.

Keiko climbed out the window and ran in search of her rabbit. She looked behind the shed and in the shadows of the thickets, but no bunny.

“She must have gone past the gate!” Keiko mustered her courage and opened the back gate.

She gasped. Where was the apartment building, the post office, the supermarket? Instead a field of silver susuki grass was swaying under the moonlight, spreading as far as she could see.


“I must be dreaming,” she thought, yet she couldn’t help but step into the field.

“Mimi-chan! Mimi-chan!” she called.

A chorus of voices said, “Hurry! Your rabbit is running away!” It came from Gentian flowers blooming nearby. “Look. She’s climbing a silver rope ladder,”

Keiko saw a narrow path winding through the field. It led to a silver ladder woven of moonlight trailing down from the sky.

Keiko thanked the gentian flowers and ran towards the ladder. Rabbits were lining up and climbing. She spotted Mimi in the line. She had a white ribbon around her neck.

“Mimi-chan, don’t go!” Keiko shouted.

But moonlight-enraptured rabbits pay little heed to humans. By the time Keiko reached the ladder, Mimi was already climbing.

Keiko touched the ladder. It was soft and supple. She began to climb. The higher she climbed, the lighter she became, the larger the moon became. Her hair danced with the wind, her pajamas swelling out like a sail. She felt as light as a flower petal.

Just as she thought she was close enough to touch the moon, she heard a rifle shot.

She shut her eyes in fear. When she timidly opened them again, she was standing in a vast field. Gold susuki grasses stretched as far as the eye could see, their tassels tossing like horses’ manes, and a new, larger, golden-yellow full moon hung above the field.   The stars were larger too. Moondrops were falling like dew, onto the field, onto Keiko’s hair and pajamas. But where had all the rabbits gone?

Then she heard a sound behind her. She turned and saw a bearded man. She could tell he was a hunter. He was wearing a fur vest and had a rifle slung across his shoulder. He was holding a rabbit he had just shot.

Keiko turned pale and began to tremble.

“Finally, I’ve shot one,” the hunter said with a smile. “I want one more because I’ve got two daughters.” Then he ran off through the field, singing:

“Rabbit magic in the full-moon light
Their fur is velvet delight,
Their eyes are rubies bright,
Their meat delicious stew alright!”

“Oh no, that’s terrible!” Keiko thought. Panicked, she ran calling “Mimi-chan! Mimi-chan!” After a long while she came upon a small tent and heard girls laughing.

Softly she asked, “Excuse me, have you seen a white rabbit?”

A black-eyed girl popped her head out the tent door. She was about the same age as Keiko. Behind her was another girl who looked just like her. “We’re waiting for rabbits, too,” they said in unison.

Inside the tent was a large steaming pot on a stove.

“The pot is ready,” said one of the girls. “We’ve chopped vegetables. We’re just waiting for rabbits.”

Keiko stood silent in shock.

“Have you seen our father? He carries a rifle. He’ll bring us rabbits. You can stay for dinner if you like. Rabbit stew is delicious,” said the girl softly.

Keiko stared at the girl. Do such sweet girls eat rabbits? she wondered. I can’t believe it.

The girl flashed a friendly smile. “Did you know you can become pretty if you eat rabbit meat? Once a year, on a moon-lit night, we climb the silver ladder with our father to eat rabbits. He makes us vests from the fur. On moon-lit nights, their fur is smooth as velvet. That’s because they want nothing but the moon. If you catch them on their way to the moon, their fur is velvet, their eyes are rubies, and their meat makes a delicious stew.”

Keiko turned pale and walked away before the girl finished. She searched desperately for Mimi.

On the breeze came a gentle voice asking, “Who are you looking for?”

She followed the voice to a cluster of evening primroses.

“My rabbit,” Keiko said, hoping for help. “She wears a white ribbon around her neck.”

The flowers nodded, “Ah, we have seen her. She just jumped out of the susuki grass and has started to climb the ladder woven of golden moonlight. Look!”


Keiko turned and looked over the fields. She spotted the golden ladder leading up into the sky towards the moon, and saw a small white ball of fur climbing it. Mimi. Keiko started to run.

The flowers called in chorus, “Wait! Wait!”

The tallest evening primrose said, “Rabbits are too fast to catch on a moon-lit night. If you just chase her there’s no way you can catch her. You must make your rabbit sleep.”


“Cover her with a yellow handkerchief.”

Keiko checked her pajama pockets, but found only a white handkerchief.

“I’ll tell you what,” the evening primrose whispered. “Pluck a lot of our petals, put them in your handkerchief, and rub. That will tint it yellow. Hurry, hurry!”

Keiko hesitated. She didn’t know if she should pluck petals from such warm-hearted flowers.

As if the flowers had read her mind, they said in unison, “Don’t worry. We’ll bloom anew tomorrow. We’re evening primroses on a moon-lit night.”

The hunter had killed rabbits to make his daughters beautiful. She would be hurting flowers to get her rabbit back. Her heart trembled with sadness and regret.

“Close your eyes. Hold your breath.” Keiko hurriedly plucked petals and wrapped them in her handkerchief. Because she knew the pain the flowers felt, she too closed her eyes and held her breath as she rubbed the handkerchief. When she gently opened it, it had turned from plain white to yellow, imprinted with flowers.

“Thank you!” Keiko said. She ran to the golden ladder, and climbed. More and more golden dewdrops covered her the higher she climbed.,

“Stop looking at the moon!” Keiko called, but Mimi kept climbing and staring up, moon-struck. Then Keiko waved the handkerchief. Mimi stopped and looked back at her. She caught up quickly, wrapped Mimi in the handkerchief, and held the rabbit softly in her arms.

Suddenly Keiko heard the hunter and his daughters singing in the distance and the susuki grass and evening primroses were nowhere to be seen. There was only the moon and the stars, and herself on a long golden ladder holding Mimi quiet in her arms.

“Hurry!” Keiko told herself. She started back down the ladder. One hundred steps, two hundred, three hundred… When she reached the ground, she was at the back gate of her home. The empty lot she always played in was there again. She could see the apartment building and the post office. She stood in her pajamas, bathing in the moonlight and a cool breeze, Mimi sleeping peacefully in her arms

She opened the gate quietly, stood on tiptoes at the window of her room, and slipped in.

As she snuggled into bed, Mimi in her arms, she thought she would call her great-grandmother in the morning and tell her, “Great-grandmother, I’ve learned how to keep a rabbit from escaping on a moon-lit night. Before the moon rises, cover her with a yellow handkerchief and she will fall fast asleep.” Then she smiled, closed her eyes, and fell fast asleep.

“A Ladder to the Moon”   © estate of Naoka Awa.  We are pleased that the first publication of this story by the much loved children’s author Naoko Awa is here in Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores on Sept. 15, 2019, with the kind permission of her estate.
Naoko Awa (1943-1993) was a much loved, award-winning writer of modern fairy tales. She was born in Tokyo and while growing up lived in different parts of Japan. As a child, she read fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Wilhelm Hauff, as well as The Arabian Nights. In 1962, while still in college, she made her literary debut in the magazine Mejiro jido bungaku. In 1965, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Japanese literature from Japan Women’s University, where she studied under Shizuka Yamamuro (1906-2000)During a literary career that spanned three decades, she published numerous books, including Mahō o kakerareta shita (1971), Kaze to ki no uta (1972), Tōi nobara no mura (1981), Kaze no rōrā sukēto (1984), and Hanamame no nieru made (1993).

“A Ladder to the Moon” was translated into English by Toshiya Kamei.
Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. He is the translator of books by Claudia Apablaza, Liliana Blum, Carlos Bortoni, Selfa Chew, Espido Freire, and Leticia Luna.

Planet Plain  and  Star Falls   by Toshio Ebine   (1978 – )  Toshio Ebine is a Japanese painter who creates images from his imagination.  He is a self-taught artist who began painting in 1998.  He works in gouache.  His themes include nostalgia, clouds, and fantasy, among others.  His website is: https://ebineyland.jimdo.com/ His dA account is: https://www.deviantart.com/ebineyland
Rabbit by Sekkei,Yamaguchi, 1644-1732, from the pair of scrolls “Rabbit and Swallows”. Yamaguchi used traditional painting styles to create his own stlyr. Among his best known works are the “Autumnal Maples” screens in Daigo-ji, registered as Important Cultural Property and.exhibited in Berlin in 1939 in the Exhibition of Japanese Art. They are
Rabbit Gazing at the Moon by Fran Eisemann.  Stock used:  “Moonlit Night” by Julie Langford  and  “Full Moon”  by  raven2663

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