Japan: The Jewel of Heart's Desire

You can read more about the mythical tide-jewels of Japan, which are also connected with the story of the fishhook that you read earlier, 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 Jewel of Heart's Desire: The Land of Morning Calm

Emperor Chiuai reclined in his summer pavilion, gazing over the jade-green sea. His slender fingers drew from a silver lute strains of heart-rending melody. In all the world he knew but two delights, the art of music and his high-hearted bride. The Empress was an adept in manly sports, a fearless Amazon, a hardy huntress, and the clash of arms was as music in her ears.

Roundly she rated her spiritless spouse: “Art thou indeed the son of valiant Yamato?” she scoffed contemptuously.

“Verily,” rejoined the Emperor placidly, “for that my father hath subdued the country there remaineth for me naught but my queen, my kingdom, and my lute.”

The brow of the Empress clouded: “Unworthy son of a glorious sire, I would have thee bear the sword of Yamato beyond the sea. In a dream the Sun Goddess came to me, saying: ‘Westward lieth the Land of Morning Calm wherein is hidden the Crystal of Heart’s Desire; that jewel I now bestow upon thee.”

“Put not thy trust in dreams,” admonished the Emperor pointing toward the sea. “Look! Seest thou aught save the great water? Even those who ascend the mountain-tops discern no more. Think not to wield the sword, but content thyself with the distaff and needle. There is no land beyond the Western Sea!”

Of a sudden a blinding light flooded the chamber and, with a rustling of wings, Amaterasu descended, terrible in her anger. “Faithless craven!” she flashed; “for that thou doubtest my celestial prophecy thy Queen shall subdue this land, and thou shalt die!”

The Emperor went white; his eyeballs rolled in their sockets.

“My Heavenly Sovereign,” besought the Empress, “in pity look upon thy wife!” Lifting his trembling fingers she placed them upon the lute “August Lord,” she pleaded, “be pleased to wake again thy silvery strains.”

“Let us set sail, set sail to the Land of Morning Calm,” he sang softly. Slowly his lips froze to immobility. The lute fell from his nerveless fingers, the music lingering still upon the vibrant strings.

Seizing a taper from the shrine, the Empress tremblingly held it before his lips. But the flame did not flicker. The gentle monarch had passed to the Land of Morning Calm.

Now it was the custom in Yamato that no woman might rule save in the name of her consort. Therefore the Prime Minister, Takeuchi, adroitly concealed the death of his sovereign, asserting that he had delegated to the Empress the command of the expedition to the Western Land. To this end he assembled munitions and builded a goodly fleet.

Empress Jingu, erstwhile so belligerent, timorously besought an omen of the gods: “My departed lord was pleased to commend to me the distaff and needle. Vouchsafe a sign, gracious Sun Goddess. Grant that with a fragile thread I may draw to land a great fish.”

Ravelling from her obi a silken thread and bending her needle into a hook, she baited it with a cherry bloom and cast it into the sea. Scarce had the blossom sunk when the waters boiled in sudden fury and, with terrific lashing of its mighty tail, she drew to land a monstrous shark. Wherefore the spot is called to this day Matsura, the Wonderful.

Again the doubting Empress implored: “Wide-shining Amaterasu, goddess of Ever-Glorious-Light! if I am destined to subdue the Land of Morning Calm vouchsafe, I pray, another omen. By thy miraculous might, arm thou my body for this enterprise.”

Thus beseeching, she plunged into the deep. Slowly the fateful moments lagged while the throng waited with bated breath.

Meanwhile, beneath the billows, unseen tire-maidens ministered unto the mazed woman. Uncoiling her jewelled headdress, they knotted her hair in manly guise. On her head they placed a dragon-crested helmet and upon her bosom a breastplate of golden-lacquered steel; in her hand a spear of eight arms length, and girded round her waist, the Sacred Sword.

A mighty shout greeted the Empress as she emerged whom the sea transformed into a gleaming warrior.

“Sons of Yamato,” she cried triumphantly, “behold the sign! The Sun Goddess hath armed me for victory!”

Whereat their hearts were filled with joy and, gathering the fleet, they embarked upon the unknown adventure.

Escorting them upon their way all manner of sea-monsters issued from the depths. Tritons blew favourable winds, mermaids pushed the sterns, and sea-dragons seized the cables, flying onward until the prows leaped through the foam-flowered waves.

Sailing by the pavilion of the Emperor, they heard his voice still singing: “Sail on Beloved, to the Land of Morning Calm!”

After days of fruitless questing, at last they sighted land. Lofty mountains and emerald plains loomed through the sapphire haze. Rounding a rugged promontory, they entered a tranquil bay in whose shelter nestled a white-walled city, but a massive chain was stretched across its goodly harbour, forbidding entrance.

Standing at the prow of the foremost galley, the Empress held aloft the Tide-flowing Jewel of Prince Fire-Fade. Suddenly the waters gathered in a mighty tidal-wave which swept over the flooded city and bore the fleet to the very temple gate.

Deeming this prodigy the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy, the panic-stricken King came forth waving a white banner and knelt before the Empress in token of subjection.

Far into the interior, inundating plains, villages, and cities, swept the tidal wave. Believing that their country was being swallowed by the ocean, the Koreans swore: “Until pines of the mountains descend in long procession and stars of heaven rain upon the sea, so long shall we remain thy loyal subjects.”

In token of their submission the Koreans presented the Empress with the Jewel of Heart’s Desire, a wondrous crystal ball flawless in contour and of such exquisite limpidity that its presence could be discerned by touch alone. In time of peril it emitted fires like the lightning bolt; in peace a radiance as the moon, conferring upon its possessor his heart’s desire. The Empress entrusted the crystal to Takeuchi, who hung it at the masthead, that its kindly rays might guide the helmsman on their homeward course.

Scarce had the army set forth upon its voyage when the jewel flashed its warning flame, as Futen, the Wind God, unloosed a great typhoon and darkness covered the face of the deep.

Now Benten, the dragon’s daughter, longed with keen desire to possess the crystal ball. Mounting to the masthead, she tore the jewel from its fastenings and bore it to the depths of the sea.

Terrible was the wrath of the Empress at the loss of the precious treasure. Angrily she commanded that the Prime Minister be denied audience until he should restore the lost talisman.

(1200 words)

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