Japan: The Dragon (cont.)

In this episode, it might seem like Yamato and Princess Tacibana will live happily ever after, but not so. Tragedy will strike when Yamato decides to go to war with the Aino (Ainu) people, an indigenous people of northern Japan. You can read more about the Ainu at Wikipedia.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Japanese Mythology unit. Story source: Romance of Old Japan, Part I: Mythology and Legend by E. W. Champney and F. Champney (1917).

The Labors of Yamato: The Dragon (cont.)

Dexterously evading the onslaught, he thrust, lunged, and slashed, burying his blade in the dragon’s belly, but in vain; at every stroke he was enwrapped more closely in the great constricting coils.

Thus the battle raged, the reptile answering each stroke with an ever-tightening grip, until it seemed that the hero’s strength would fail. But Yamato, gathering himself in one supreme effort, thrust his sword to the hilt in the dragon’s throat.

With lightning-like convolutions, the monster strove to wrest the blade from the hand of his antagonist, and then with a thunderous battering of wings soared in air. Writhing in its death-throes it hovered a moment, and then fell crashing to earth.

Yamato heard afar the voice of Tacibana chanting: “Henceforth shall all evil and calamity through writhing reptiles for ever disappear, as the wind of morning blows away night’s chill-enfolding mist. As ships sailing from the harbour so shall these evil spirits be borne to the Sea Plain, then swept through the Whirlpool Gate to Yomi, that the earth be rid of them for ever.”

Yamato lifted his weary lids to behold the wondrous smile of Tacibana.

“My divine Lord,” she murmured, “thou hast delivered me for ever from Susa-no-wo.”

“Henceforth, my Beloved,” replied Yamato, “naught may part us. No longer shall our arch-enemy defile the land. Hereafter hath he power alone over the sea.”

Full long and joyously lived Yamato with his ever-loving wife.

One day, in the month of the watery moon, he fared forth upon a foray against the tempestuous Ainos. Loth to hazard the toilsome mountain passes, he chose rather to embark his army upon the sea.

Princess Tacibana, in sore distress that her lord was in no mind to renounce this venture, implored to be permitted to accompany him.

Laughing away her fears, Yamato consented: “‘Tis my last fight,” he declared. “Henceforth will we spend our days in never-ending peace.”

When they had journeyed to the wave-washed shores of Idzu, Yamato exclaimed exultingly: “Why should I fear to encounter Susa-no-wo upon the sea since I have already conquered him on land?”

Whereupon the Sea God, angered at the defiant words of Yamato, raised a mighty tempest. The rains descended and the winds blew and beat upon the ship. Thunderbolts crashed about them and lightning blinded their eyes. Great billows swept the decks, sails were rent in ribbons, and masts were split in twain.

Out of the depths he heard a siren singing: “Reckless Yamato, thou hast adventured upon my ever-verdant Sea Plain and defied my father, the God of Ocean. Therefore shalt thou perish, else another victim be granted me.”

In the seething emerald waters Tacibana beheld a mermaid stretching out moon-blanched arms.

Forgetting his former infidelity, she resolved to sacrifice herself in the place of her beloved lord. “Take me, Benten, to thy watery kingdom, “cried the Princess, then plunged into the foam-flowered waves.

Of a sudden the tempest abated, the sea was calmed, and a snow-white heron soared upward to the sun.

“With thee let me live or perish!” cried Yamato, leaping into the jade-green sea.

Long he battled beneath the wave, groping through the depths for his faithful Princess. At last he rose bearing in his arms a white and lifeless burden. The snow-white spirit of Tacibana had soared to the Eternal Land.

“Alas, my beloved wife!” sobbed Yamato, “may the foam-flowers bloom for ever on thy grave!”

From the lament of Yamato, the eastern province of Japan is still known as Azuma, “Alas! My beloved wife.”

The Autumn flames with ruddy, golden light
The verdant leaves, ere sere and dead they flee,
But ever pure and fair, like blossoms white,
The foam-flowers bloom upon the deathless sea.

Her face displayed the flush of autumn day,
Lissome her form as stem of frail bamboo,
Unfathomable her eyes as ocean blue.
For her we hoped a life as long and gay
And flowery-full as the sweet month of May,
Not evanescent like the morning dew,
Or eve’s light veil that vanisheth anew
With morrow’s wind, blown whither none may say.

If we, who glimpsed but momently her charm,
So moved are, how must he be forlorn
Who pillowed once his head on her white arm,
Now desolate indeed as lone he lies,
Sundered so swiftly from her loving eyes,
Like fleeting mists of eve and dew of morn!

(700 words)

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