(taken from: Totto Chan: The little girl at the window. Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. 1981, p. 19-21)
Totto-chan had never labored so hard in her life. What a day that was when she dropped her favorite purse down the toilet! It had no money in it, but Totto-chan loved the purse so much she even took it to the toilet with her. It was a truly beautiful purse made of red, yellow, and green checked taffeta. It was square and flat, with a silver Scotch terrier rather like a brooch over the triangular flap of the fastening.
Now Totto-chan had a curious habit. Ever since she was small, whenever she went to the toilet, she made it a point to peer down the hole after she had finished. Consequently, even before she started going to elementary school, she had already lost several hats, including a straw one and a white lace one. Toilets, in those days, had no flush systems, only a sort of cesspool underneath, so the hats were usually left floating there. Mother was always telling Totto-chan not to peer down the hole after she had finished using the toilet. That day, when Totto-chan went to the toilet before school started, she forgot Mother’s warning, and before she knew it, she found herself peering down the hole.
She must have Loosened her hold on the purse at that moment, for it slipped out of her hand and dropped down the hole with a splash. Totto-chan let out a cry as it disappeared into the darkness below. But Totto-chan refused to shed tears or give up the purse as lost. She went to the janitor’s shed and got a large, long-handled wooden ladle used for watering the garden. The handle was almost twice as long as she was, but that did not deter her in the least. She went around with it to the back of the school and tried to find the opening through which the cesspool was emptied. She imagined it would be on the outside wall of the toilet, but after searching in vain she finally noticed a round concrete manhole cover about a yard away. Lifting it off with difficulty, she discovered an opening that was undoubtedly the one she was looking for. She put her head inside.
“Why, it’s as big as the pond at Kuhonbutsu!” she exclaimed.
Then she began her task. She started ladling out the contents of the cesspool. At first she tried the area in which she had dropped the purse. But the tank was deep and dark and quite extensive, since it served three separate toilets. Moreover, she was in danger of falling in herself if she put her head in too far, so she decided to just keep on ladling and hope for the best, emptying her ladle onto the ground around the hole. She inspected each ladleful, of course, to see if it contained the purse. She hadn’t thought it would take her long to find, but there was no sign of the purse. Where could it be? The bell rang for the beginning of class.
What should she do, she wondered, but having gone so far she decided to continue. She ladled with renewed vigor.
There was quite a pile on the ground when the headmaster happened to pass by.
“What are you doing?” he asked Totto-chan.
“I dropped my purse,” she replied, as she went on ladling, not wanting to waste a moment.
“I see,” said the headmaster, and walked away, his hands clasped behind his back as was his habit when he went for a stroll.
Time went by and she still hadn’t found the purse. The foul-smelling pile was getting higher and higher.
The headmaster came by again. “Have you found it?” he inquired.
“No,” replied Totto-chan, from the center of the pile, sweating profusely, her cheeks flushed.
The headmaster came closer and said in a friendly tone, “You’ll put it all back when you’ve finished, won’t you?” Then he went off again, as he had done before.
“Yes,” Totto-chan replied cheerfully, as she went on with her work. Suddenly a thought struck her.
She looked at the pile. “When I’ve finished I can put all the solid stuff back, but what do I do about the water?”
The liquid portion was disappearing fast into the earth. Totto-chan stopped working and tried to figure out how she could get that part back into the tank, too, since she had promised the headmaster to put it all back. She finally decided the thing to do was to put in some of the wet earth.
The pile was a real mountain by now and the tank was almost empty, but there was still no sign of the purse. Maybe it had stuck to the rim of the tank or to the bottom. But Totto-chan didn’t care. She was satisfied she had done all she could.
Totto-chan’s satisfaction was undoubtedly due in part to the self-respect the headmaster made her
feel by not scolding her and by trusting her. But that was too complicated for Tottochan to realize then.
Most adults, on discovering Totto-chan in such a situation, would have reacted by exclaiming, “What on earth are you doing!” or “Stop that, it’s dangerous!” or, alternatively, offering to help.
Imagine just saying, “You’ll put it all back when you’ve finished, won’t you?” What a marvelous headmaster, thought Mother when she heard the story from Totto-chan.
After the incident, Totto-chan never peered down the hole any more after using the toilet. And she felt the headmaster was someone she could trust completely, and she liked him more than ever. Totto-chan kept her promise and put everything back into the tank. It was a terrible job getting it out, but putting it back was much quicker. She put some of the wet earth in, too. Then she smoothed the ground, put the cover back properly, and took the ladle back to the janitor’s shed.
That night before she went to bed Totto-chan thought about the beautiful purse she had dropped into the darkness. She was sad about losing it, but the day’s exertion had made her so tired it was not long before she was fast asleep.
Meanwhile, at the scene of her toil, the damp earth shimmered in the moonlight like some beautiful thing. And somewhere the purse rested quietly.