Japan: The Labors of Yamato - The Golden Apple

In this episode, the sea-goddess Benten is going to assign a task to Yamato, sending him to fetch a Golden Apple from the Island of Eternal Life, and she also tells the story of Jofuku the wise man who traveled to the Island of Eternal Life as well and brought away one of those Golden Apples. You can read more about that famous legend at Wikipedia: Xu Fu. You can also read the story of Jofuku in fairy-tale form in the Japanese Fairy Tales by Ozaki unit.

[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 Golden Apple

“I pray thee tell me of this land,” besought Yamato.

“List,” cried the siren, the whiles strumming her golden lute she sang:

In the long-forgotten ages of the heroes and the sages,
Far across the Yellow Ocean in the kingdom of Cathay,
Once there dwelt a cruel creature, mean of soul and cold of feature,
Whom all worshipped as an idol, bowing neath his despot sway.

Now Jofuku, court physician, sore lamented his position,
Ever fearing lest the morrow were his last remaining day,
So the leech one lovely morning to his master giveth warning
And salaams his august kingship and these words to him doth say:

“Grant me but a junk, good Master, wherein I without disaster
To the ‘Isle of Life Eternal,’ far beyond the sun, may sail;
Then will I the Apple Golden for thee pluck, whereby thine olden
Limbs shall leap with youth immortal, ever beautiful and hale.”

So the King, in jubilation, made but little altercation;
And Jofuku journeyed southward o’er the smiling, sapphire sea.
Days and months and years together sailed he on through wind and weather,
Till above the far horizon he beheld a Wonder-Tree!

Floating on the idle billow like a head upon a pillow,
Fast asleep upon the ocean dreaming midst the foam-flowers white,
Loomed the Tree of Youth Immortal, of eternal life the portal,
Growing out the misty marges of an Island of Delight.

Quoth Jofuku: “Yon fair island is no other isle than my land,
Here shall I abide for ever eating of this Wonder-Tree!”
So forthwith the junk he stranded and upon the shore he landed,
In a Forest of Enchantment floating on the sapphire sea.

And for five-score years he dwelt there, nor the flight of time he felt, where
Birth and Death and Age exist not lightly sped the ‘tranc├Ęd hours,
In a round of endless pleasure, rife with joyance beyond measure,
Lived Jofuku in this paradise of ever-blooming flowers.

Till one day he longed to sally o’er the ocean’s foam-flowered valley
As he wistful watched the sea-fowl winging southward through the sky;
Then he hailed a storklet slender and in accents sweet and tender
Pleaded: “Pray kind bird transport me to my home ere yet I die!”

And the stork forthwith consented and the leech, with joy demented,
Mounted on its snowy pinions, swiftly soared across the foam,
Bearing thence the Apple Golden safe within his arms enfolden,
To his native land returning, never more again to roam.

For the tyrant’s life had ended and Jofuku now ascended,
Khan of Khans, enthroned for ever o’er the kingdom of Cathay,
Far across the Yellow Ocean, worshipped with a blind devotion,
Wields he o’er a myriad Tartars still the sceptre to this day.


“Prince! if thou wouldst be my lover, that Enchanted Isle discover,
Bring me back the Golden Apple, thy devotion thus to prove!
Then in joyance beyond measure, in a round of ceaseless pleasure,
Thou shalt dwell with me for ever in eternal youth and love.”

(500 words)

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