Japan: The Labors of Yamato - The Demon Boar

You might know that the Greek hero Heracles also battled a boar as one of his labors: The Erymanthian Boar.

[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 Demon Boar

Returning to Kashiwa-bara, Yamato demanded of all his courtiers concerning the Island of Golden Apples, but none had heard thereof. Thereupon he wandered to the ports and harbours, questioning ever the sailors and fishermen, nor had any of these bold seafarers beheld the wondrous land.

A lethargy of despair fell upon him. He delighted no longer in the sports of the field, neither in feasting with his boon companions nor in biding at home with his fair and lovesome wife.

Right joyously did Tacibana greet him after his long absence, though ofttimes the tears welled to her eyes as she beheld him gazing wistfully upon the sea.

“Why do you weep?” he asked impatiently; and sweetly she answered: “For happiness, good my Lord.

Like rain upon a parching flower Thy presence is to me;
But grieving lone for many an hour
I withered without thee.

On a day came certain of the country folk to Yamato plaining: “Know, great Prince, that in the forest of Hakone rageth a giant boar. None is there who dareth oppose him, for he is possessed of a demon, even by Susa-no-wo, who rideth upon him brandishing spear and sword scattering fiery arrows and carrying murrain an pestilence throughout the land.”

Then cried Yamato: “I will forthwith to Ise and take counsel how I may vanquish this demon boar!”

Right gladly the high priestess welcomed Yamato. “Eagerly have I awaited thy coming,” she exclaimed. “Fain would I tender thee the Sacred Sword, for with no other weapon can this boar be slain. In his tail alone is the monster vulnerable ,and he runneth more swiftly than the wind.”

Greatly marvelling, Yamato took the sword. “How then, save in sleep, may I overtake him?” he pondered. “Yet would I not slay him defenceless. Such easy conquest delighteth not my heart.”

With a band of hardy huntsmen Yamato set fort to a forest at the foot of Fujiyama. Startling to air myriads of winged creatures, outrunning swift-footed hares in tempestuous flight, coursing hither and thither with nose to earth, the pack pursued the scent, lustily giving tongue while the merry cavalcade galloped furiously upon their heels.

Ever higher through dusky forest glades they climbed to the bright-shining uplands. A scent of thyme floated on the breeze; velvet heather lay like a carpet beneath their feet. Towering like mighty castles one above the other, peak overtopping peak in never ending flight, mighty mountains loomed their time-scarred battlements against the cloudless sky.

Up steep ravines and beetling cliffs they mounted to a jagged crag, where, backed against a writhen cedar, beset about by the clamorous hounds, roaring in wrath at this invasion of his secret lair, stood at bay the giant demon boar.

Valiantly the pack drove upon him, only to be tossed instantly in air and to fall, tusked through the entrails, in pools of gore. Whereat the bowmen let fly a cloud of arrows, but their shafts rebounded like hail from the boar’s invulnerable hide.

Then Yamato, heedless of the warning of the high priestess, set his spear in rest and urged his stallion to the charge. An instant later the steed impaled itself upon the terrible tusks and Yamato toppled headlong to the ground.

Staggering dazedly to his feet he strove to raise his steed, but the noble creature quivered in its death agony, gazing helplessly upon its master with mute, appealing eyes.

Of a sudden, bristling with baffled wrath, snorting furiously, and gnashing his murderous tusks, the monster charged.

Hoping to spear him as he passed, Yamato sprang behind the trunk of a tree. But the boar had halted and, with cruel cunning, bided his time.

Thereupon our hero found himself in sorry straits. On the one hand yawned a black abyss; on the other stood a threatening monster. To leap into the chasm or to dare the demon were alike certain death. But Yamato, undaunted, drew the Sacred Sword, and with an agile bound springing clean over the boar’s head, he bestrode the astonished creature and, grasping his tail, severed it suddenly from the spine.

Blind with pain the demon plunged over the precipice and was dashed into a thousand fragments upon the rocks below, while Yamato, sliding dexterously from its back, remained in safety upon the brink.

(700 words)

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