Japan: The Heaven-Descended

The English translator of the verses from the poet Hitomaro at the beginning of this story has chosen to use the meter of the Finnish Kalevala and Longfellow's Hiawatha in order to give the lines an epic quality; you can read more about that 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 Heaven-Descended

When began the earth and heaven,
By the margin of the River
Of the firmament eternal,
Met the Gods in high assembly,
Met the Gods and held high counsel,
Myriads upon myriads gathered;
Then to each high charge was given.
On the Goddess of the Sunlight,
Her who fills the sky with radiance,
They bestowed the realm of Heaven.
To her grandchild they delivered
This, the mountain-land Yamato,
This, the land of fairest rice-ears,
His with god-like sway to govern,
Long as heaven and earth endured.
- Hitomaro

Now the eight hundred myriad gods gathered in council in the bed of the Tranquil River of Heaven. And Amaterasu, the Bright-Shining Sun Goddess spake, saying: “The Netherland of Rice Plains is rife with discord. By day the Earth Spirits swarm like flies in the fifth month, and by night they raise a clamour like the flames of fire. Wherefore must we send down a deity to quell these unseemly uprisings and restore the Sunny Land of Rice Plains to prosperity and peace.”

Thereupon Amewaka (Heaven-Young-Prince) descended the Rainbow Bridge to govern the land. As he set foot on the shores of the Isle of the Dragon-fly, he encountered a beauteous earth spirit, the Princess Shita-teru-hime (Princess Nether-Shining).

Bewitched by her loveliness, Amewaka wedded the maiden forthwith and remained for eight long years feasting and revelling in the Land of Sunny Rice Plains.

The Sun Goddess, marvelling greatly at the long tarrying of her heaven-sent messenger, sent the faithful pheasant, Na-naki, to inquire the cause of his silence. The pheasant flew down to earth and perched upon a many-branched cassia-tree which grew at the gate of the Prince’s palace.

Then Ama-no-sagu (the Heaven-Spying Woman) went to the young Prince and said: “An evil bird percheth on the top of yonder cassia-tree. I fear its cry bodeth no good.”

Forthwith Amewaka took his heavenly bow and arrows and shot the pheasant through the heart, so that it died. Upward and onward sped the feathered arrow through leagues of endless sky, till it pierced the highest clouds and fell at the very feet of Bright-Shining Amaterasu, seated upon her throne in the sun.

Then spake the Sun Goddess: “This is the very arrow I gave to Amewaka. Behold its feathers are stained with blood; perchance he hath been fighting with the Earthly Deities.”

Thereupon she took up the arrow and flung it forth to earth, saying: “If this arrow be one shot by Amewaka at the Earth Spirits, let it not attain to him, but if he hath an evil heart, may the heavenly arrow fly straight to that mark.”

Now at this time the Heavenly Prince was sleeping after the feast of first fruits, and the feathered arrow pierced Amewaka to the heart.

When she beheld the dead body of her youthful husband, Princess Nether-Shining wept long and bitterly. She would not be consoled and the sound of her cries rose to the High Plains of Heaven.

Whereupon Ame-no-kuno straightway knew that her son Amewaka was dead and raised a mighty tempest which upbore the body of the young Prince to the Celestial Realms. Here they built a great mourning-house and wept and wailed for eight long days and nights with ceaseless lamentation.

Sang the mourners:

More lustrous than the precious gems,
Worn by Heaven’s Weaving-Maidens bright,
More fair than their great diadems,
Was Amewaka, wondrous knight.
Alas, the glory of his face
No more shall shame the shining day.
Unblemished gem of loveliness,
Thy light is quenched now for aye!

At the same time to the obsequies of the pheasant Na-naki flew myriads of the swift-winged birds of heaven, in endless procession, the wild geese of the river, the storks, the kingfishers, and the eagles, who mourned their slain brother with a great wailing.

Thereafter the Sun Goddess summoned her grandchild Ninigi (Prince Rice Plenty), and thus exhorted him: “Tis the appointed time when thou shouldst descend to rule in the Sunny Land of Rice Plains. Go thou, and may fortune attend thee, that thy dynasty, like the immortal Heaven, may endure for ever!”

Whereupon she conferred upon him three divine gifts: the Necklace of Jewels, which her father Izanagi had bestowed upon her at her birth; the Sacred Sword, which Susa-no-wo discovered within the tail of the eight-forked serpent; and the Miraculous Mirror whose lustre had lured her from the magic cave, commanding him the whiles: “Guard jealously all these tokens, but the mirror with thy life, for when thou lookest therein thou shalt ever behold my countenance.”

When Ninigi was about to descend to the Land of Rice Plains, a herald, who had been despatched before to announce his coming, returned saying: “There dwelleth a Giant God at the Eight Cross Roads of Heaven whose stature exceedeth seven fathoms. A great light shineth from his mouth and his eyeballs glow like the sun at noonday.”

Now among all the eight hundred myriad deities of I leaven there was none who durst confront this prodigious giant. Wherefore Ninigi called to him Uzume, the Goddess of Mirth, and commanded: “Of all the heavenly goddesses thou art superior in the power of thy looks. Do thou go and make inquiry.”




(900 words)









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