Japan: The Fortunate Fish-Hook

Now you move on to the next generation, with Ho-deri (Fire-Flame) and Ho-wori (Fire-Fade), the sons of Ninigi; Ho-wori was a hunter and Ho-deri was a fisherman. You can read more about the rivalry between these two brothers 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 Fortunate Fish-Hook

Once upon a time there dwelt upon the isle of Tsukushi a lad called Ho-wori (Prince Fire-Fade), the son of Ninigi, Heaven-descended grandchild of Amaterasu. This youthful prince was a famous hunter, who slew all manner of furry “things, both rough and soft of hair.”

Ho-deri (Prince Fire-Flame), his older brother, was a famous fisher who caught all manner of finny “things, both broad of fin and narrow of fin.”

One day Ho-deri, weary with waiting for the wind to abate and the sea to calm, thus challenged Ho-wori: “Let us for the nonce exchange callings. Lend me, I pray thee, thy miraculous bow and arrows, that I may become a hunter. In return I will give thee my magic fish-hook.”

So Ho-wori consented and did as Ho-deri bade him.

But the elder brother, skilled as he was in luring the denizens of the deep, was but a sorry huntsman. After an arduous day he returned weary and empty-handed. He accordingly gave back to Ho-wori his bow and arrows, saying: “Thou hast the fortune of the mountain; and to me is given that of the sea. Restore thou my magic fishhook!”

Then Prince Fine-Fade answered: “In vain have I furrowed the jade-green water and cast my line beyond the bounds of the sea. No fish have I caught, and moreover I have lost thy worthless fish-hook.”

Prince Fine-Flame flashed with indignation and threateningly demanded his lost talisman. His brother generously offered to replace the missing fish-hook by a new one, but Ho-deri scornfully refused his proffered gift.

Ho-wori then took his sword and, breaking it into a thousand pieces, forged from it a myriad fish-hooks, which he piled in a great heap and presented to Ho-deri.

But even this did not appease Prince Fire-Flame, who retorted: “These be not my magic fish-hook. Were they numberless as the beasts of the sea would I none of them!”

Now Prince Fire-Fade, grieving because of the resentment of his brother, went down one day to the jade-green sea. While he stood sighing and lamenting upon the shore, of a sudden appeared to him Shiko-tsutsu (the Old Man of the Sea).

“Why grievest thou thus, Ho-wori?” demanded the kind old man, and Prince Fire-Fade recounted to him the tale of the lost fish-hook.

Quoth the Salt-sea Elder: “Be of good cheer, Ho-wori; I will give thee aid.” Plaiting together withes of bamboo, the old man fashioned a basket, wherein he set the young prince, who sailed in it far out to sea.

Now when he had passed the bounds of ocean, the basket burst its fragile seams and began to sink. Down it fell through endless depths of seaweed forests till it descended in the courtyard of a great castle, the abode of Wata-tsumi (God of the Ocean).

Before its gate stood a well, and above the well grew a wide-spreading cassia-tree. Ho-wori climbed into its tangled branches and watched the myriad glittering fishes glide through its fantastic foliage. As he gazed upon the brilliant scene, he perceived a maiden bearing a golden bowl approaching the well. It was the lovely Princess Toyo-tama (Peerless Jewel), daughter of the Sea-God.

Ho-wori stood spellbound by hen wondrous beauty.

As she stooped over the well to draw water, of a sudden she saw the face of Prince Fine-Fade reflected therein. Whereupon she let fall her golden bowl and ran trembling to her father.

“Father,” she cried, “I have beheld a youth with the countenance of a God within the branches of yonder cassia-tree.”

Wata-tsumi, the Sea-God, went forth, and calling Ho-wori, cried: “Descend, thou Son-of-the-Gods, and deign to accompany me to my unworthy dwelling.”

Leading Ho-wori through his stately palace, he seated him upon a throne cushioned eightfold with the skins of sea-lions. Before him, upon a table of coral, he set a sumptuous banquet, served on plates of pearl. They sipped rare ocean-sake from silvery shells, while fiddler crabs discoursed sweet music on the golden strand.

When they had feasted to their hearts’ content, Ho-wori led the peerless Princess to the terrace, where in a shadowy garden of sea-blooms, he whispered his undying love, and Toyo-tama graciously consented to become his bride. They confided their joyous secret to the Sea-God who gave them his fatherly blessing, whereupon they plighted their troth anew and exchanged nuptial cups of the sweet ocean-sake.

(800 words)

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