Japan: The Labors of Yamato - The Dragon

As the authors explain, the "norito" referred to here in the story is "an ancient exorcism to protect the faithful from serpents, sprites, and goblins." You can learn more about these Shinto pryaers at the Norito: Shinto Prayers website.

[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

Exulting in his victory Yamato descended the forest-clad slopes of Fujiyama.

Joyous at having regained the Sacred Sword, his heart leaped with a greater happiness. At last he realized that not for love of him but to gain the Sacred Sword had Benten woven her guileful web, and his heart yearned for the faithful Tacibana.

But first, he told himself, he must visit the sorceress to charge her with treachery and theft. He hastened to their trysting place and, gazing into the jade-green water, presently perceived the glitter of her golden scales. Yamato plunged headlong in pursuit of the fleeing siren and the dark wave closed above him.

As a stone cast into a bottomless well sank Yamato, and ever, as he descended, the sea crooned in his ears a sweet yet sorrowful slumber-song bodeful of love and death. Then was he mindful of returning earthward, but of a sudden he felt himself enveloped by the folds of a loathly serpent, and a chill struck to his very heart.

The song of the sea became louder and more articulate till he recognized the voice of Benten: “I hold thee for ever,” sang the siren. “Thrice have I held thee, and thrice hast thou eluded my grasp. Henceforth none may wrest thee from me, save a goddess whom thou shalt acclaim more beautiful, whose love is even greater than mine own.”

Then dim and far, above the endless leagues of jade-green water, Yamato was ware of the Princess Tacibana gently murmuring his name. Through the infinite depths he beheld her lovesome face smiling to him from out the dusky cloud-rifts of her hair.

Then knew Yamato that “the goddess more beautiful than Benten whose love was greater than her own,” was none other than his faithful Tacibana.

Downward, like the tendrils of some miraculous vine, grew the dusky tresses of Tacibana. They enveloped Yamato in a fragrant cloud and enlaced him in the meshes of a silken net. Like strong encircling arms they upbore him, through endless leagues of water, to the sea-swept isle of Enoshima.

Tacibana, pitiful and wan, gazed anxiously upon him. Her warm white hands clasped his in fond solicitude. He strove to speak, but a great weariness overcame him, and he fell upon the breast of his faithful Princess.

When Yamato came to himself, Tacibana had vanished, whither he knew not. “She hath gone for help and will presently come again,” he said within himself, but hours passed, and she did not return.

Distraught by vague forebodings Yamato turned his steps toward Kashiwa-bara.

He found the city in a state of utter panic. Their household chattels piled upon bullock-carts or borne upon their bended backs, the terror-stricken natives were rushing hither and thither as though surprised by a sudden conflagration.

Demanding the cause of their alarm Yamato was informed that a terrific dragon had descended upon the land, slaying cattle, devastating rice-fields, and overwhelming the people with pestilence and death.

When last descried the monster was entering the royal palace, whence lamentable cries had issued telling the fate of its inhabitants.

Yamato hastened thither. All was silent and deserted. From cellar to turret he rushed, calling frantically upon Tacibana, only to find a mass of mangled and lifeless bodies. He searched gardens and outbuildings, following trails of blood, but nowhere could he discern trace of his lost Princess.

Of a sudden he heard a sound as of a priestess chanting, and mounting a Pagoda found Tacibana clad in white vestments waving a wand, and chanting the norito.

Suddenly her voice was whelmed in a terrific uproar. The Thunder God Raiden beat furiously upon his drums; great leaden clouds shut out the sky. Futen, the Wind God, unloosed his tempests, while with a flash of forked lightning, from a rent in the midnight sky, hurtled Susa-no-wo, Dragon of the Sea.

His head was like a camel, his horns were like a stag, and his eyes were glowing coals of fire. Scaled like a crocodile, he brandished a tiger’s paws, armed with the talons of an eagle.

Belching forth the steam of a score of geysers and rearing itself upon its terrible tail, the dragon charged at Yamato.

(700 words)

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