Japan: The Quest of the Jewel

As part of the Tide Jewels article at Wikipedia, you can find out more about the legend of Tamatori. You can also read more about the famous pearl divers of Japan who are called Ama.

[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 Quest

The journey ended, ruined and disgraced, Takeuchi retired from court. Resolved on self-destruction, he climbed one night to the summit of a cliff.

A fisher-maid, the gentle Tamatori, followed him unseen as he wandered thus, deeming himself alone. Long and silently had she loved the great minister, locking the secret in her woeful heart for well she knew that only a princess might hope to wed the famous daimio.

Marking his distraught mien, her loving heart boded his fatal purpose: “Stay, my Lord,” she screamed as he ungirded his swords; “relinquish thy resolve, I beseech thee.”

In vain he strove to unlock her clinging arms. “Let me die,” he commanded, “I am disgraced.” Then he told her of the lost crystal and the wrath of the Empress.

“Behold!” she cried, “yonder gleams a wondrous light. Can it be that some great star hath fallen into the sea?”

Thunderstruck Takeuchi gazed into the darkling water. In its unfathomable depths loomed a coral pagoda of an hundred stories, and, upon its topmost pinnacle, like a lustrous star, glittered the Jewel of Heart’s Desire!

“Tis the palace of Benten” he exclaimed wonderingly.

“Be of good cheer,” laughed the fisher-maid. “Like a fish can I dive; wait thou here. I shall attain my heart’s desire for I shall give thee thine!”

Girding on his swords she leaped into the sea. Down through the emerald water she plunged, until she reached the spire where gleamed the wonder-jewel. Strange, loathly fish leered at her with great round eyes, as she seized the magic crystal. Then suddenly the waters were lashed into furious commotion and the vile sea-dragon crawled from his hidden lair. On every side sea-monsters hurried to his call: sharks opened their terrible jaws, swordfish darted at her, cuttlefish blinded her eyes with their inky spittle, and devilfish entangled her limbs with clinging tentacles; while the dragon stood apart and smiled upon her with his evil smile.

Then Tamatori feared that her hour had come. Knowing that a dragon will not touch a corpse, she plunged her sword into her bosom and thrust the jewel within the gaping wound. Impotent with wrath the foiled monster slunk slowly away and the waters were calmed.

Long and anxiously had Takeuchi waited, and bitter was his remorse when the lifeless form of the maiden drifted to his feet. Her cold hands, crossed upon her breast, still guarded the coveted treasure, and the smile upon her pallid face was wondrous to behold. Takeuchi caused her to be placed upon a lordly catafalque and conveyed with all honour to the capital.

The fame of her noble deed outran the cortege. From every village came maidens bearing garlands; from the temples priests with incense, from the citadel samurai with drums and dirges, even as they would have honoured a general after a great victory. As they passed through the city gates, crowds swarmed about her in wonder. From the palace floated mystic strains of the Emperor’s lute.

The Empress knelt at the fisher-maiden’s bier. Reverently she placed within the maiden’s lifeless hand a patent of nobility, creating her, all too late, Princess of Heart’s Desire. Overjoyed at the recovery of the crystal, she elevated to the regency her devoted minister.

If it is true, as some contend, that they were secretly wedded, the ancient chronicles are discreetly silent as to this episode in the career of their militant Empress.

Next: Urashima

(600 words)

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