There was once a poor boy whose father had died and his mother too poor after that to feed him. He wandered from town to town, looking for a family who would keep him or a master who would teach him a trade... any trade... or any place he could stay. But times were hard and nobody wanted an extra mouth to feed. The poor boy managed to find more alms than beatings, but had no luck finding a new home.
One day he came to a rice farm. It was harvest time and the farmer was working in his fields. The farmer was not much better off than the poor boy and an old man besides. The poor boy saw what he hoped was an opportunity in the old farmer to watch how rice was harvested and so find a little work, if not in those fields, then in some other farmer's. He watched from a distance as the old man broke the dams that held water in the fields, let them drain, then cut and threshed the rice plants. His family was small, but they all helped and the poor boy did his best to learn by watching what they did. He thought he'd finally gotten the method down pat when the farmer stood up and staggered for a minute, then fell. His family rushed to his side and took him from the field. Nothing more was done that day.
Night came and the moon rose. The poor boy said to himself, "I know how to do it! The old farmer made himself sick by working too hard, but I'm still young and strong!" And it was true; even though the boy hadn't eaten all day, as soon as the moon touched his skin he felt very strong! He stripped to his last undergarment and waded out to the old man's rice fields. He started to imitate what he'd seen the old man and his family do; soon he was harvesting properly, threshing well, still hardly sweating! With uncanny speed, he finished the harvest in one night. Leaving the last grain to dry as the sun touched the horizon, he bound away before any of the farmer's family could see him.
He hadn't eaten a single grain of the famer's rice, but he didn't feel hungry at all that day. The amazing strength that had let him finish the harvest in a night had left him, but he still felt as if he could run all day; wisely, he simply walked, looking for another rice harvest and possible work. That night however, as the moon rose over his nest in the bush where he lay trying to sleep, he heard a soft growling at his feet. There sat a beautiful, white, nine-tailed fox.
"Inari, goddess of rice, is pleased with you," the creature said. "You helped the old man. She gave you the strength to do so and you used it without a thought for yourself. Inari therefore sent me to help you. What do you wish me to do?"
"I don't understand," the poor boy replied. "I know that you are kitsune and you have magic, but what may I ask for?"
The spirit fox fluffed it's tails and sat up straighter. "Anything!" it replied. "You need never beg again, just ask it and I'll get for you whatever you wish."
"Will you always do this?"
Here the kitsune gave a sly smile. "For as long as you ask wisely!" it replied. "If once you ask for something foolish, I return to Inari at once. Choose carefully!"
The poor boy thought about that. Then he thought again. And then he thought some more. The fox groomed its whiskers, then started on its tails. At last the boy spoke.
"I want to be clean," he said, "and I want my clothes to be clean and well mended."
"Useful," the kitsune replied.
"Wait," said the boy, "I'm not done. I want a purse and I want it to have five different coins in it no matter what I take out."
"Tricky," the kitsune replied, "but very useful!"
"Wait," said the boy, "I'm still not done. I want land of my own, just a small plot, enough to grow food for my family, and a house on it too, not fancy, but big enough for my family. I want a wife. She doesn't have to be beautiful, pretty will do, as long as she loves me and gives me children of my own; a boy to help me work, then a girl to help my wife, then another boy or two. Let me have these and I'll never need to ask for another thing."
The white fox smiled, it's nine tails slowly swishing. "Are you sure?" it asked. "Nothing else at all?"
But the boy smiled back. "I have been too poor and it is bad. But my father taught me before he died that it's bad to be too rich, that wealth only brings different problems, not fewer. He taught me that the best thing is to have what you need and just a little bit more. What I've asked for is just that. So yes, I'm sure, those things and nothing more."
The white fox shook its head and stood. "Poor boy," it said, "perhaps Inari will let you serve her again one day. If so, remember that it is not wise to put all of your begs in one ask-it."
The kitsune then lept into the brush and was gone in an instant. The poor boy continued to wander, but at last was taken in at an Inari temple where he learned to be a priest.