Japanese Folktales: The Dream of Akinosuke – Ants, Dreaming Humans and the Butterfly Soul

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Ants, Butterflies and Dreaming Humans

Insects and humans are a strange mix and yet in In Japanese folklore the human soul sometimes appears as a butterfly. Maybe it is something about the way they flutter from place to place or the fact that they have gone through metamorphosis to transform into a such a beautiful creature.  When we look deeply into the populous and industrious colonies of ants many people see a microcosm of a human cities and society. Indeed, from above our cities often seem to be teeming with myriads of ant-like creatures.

In reality the idea of humans being insect-like in any way may seem absurd except in our dreams in which reality can be suspended, twisted and turned on its head and time has a completely different duration. In such dreams we may believe ourselves to have lived for years in a certain place but awake to be told that we have only been asleep for a few minutes. But what if when we return from the dream to the waking world we find evidence that there may indeed be some basis for the idea we actually existed in our dream – what then?  

Presented here is a retelling of a Japanese folktale originally called, The Dream of Akinosuke, from a collection of tales, called Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn which has some strange things to say about ants, butterflies and dreaming humans.

THE DREAM OF AKINOSUKE

There once lived in the district of Toichi in the Yamato Province of old Japan a goshi named Miyata Akinosuke.  These were feudal times and in such times goshi were a social class having certain privileges. They were soldiers and freehold farmers who owed their position and allegiance to an overlord. Akinosuke was just such a man and as a freeholder he had a very beautiful garden with an ancient and spreading cedar tree.  He was very fond of his tree and during the hot, sultry days of summer he liked to recline and relax in the coolness of its shade. 

One hot afternoon he was relaxing in the shade of his tree with two of his fellow goshi.  They were having a very pleasant time drinking wine and conversing amicably on different topics and enjoying each other’s company.  Maybe it was the wine or maybe it was the warm sultry afternoon or maybe it was both, but Akinosuke grew very drowsy. He grew so sleepy that he asked his friends to excuse him while he took a brief nap.  Teasing him they told him the wine had gone to his head, but agreed to excuse him and he lay down at the foot of his beautiful cedar tree and very soon he was dreaming a dream like no other.

The Procession

In this dream he saw a great and grand procession of people coming over the crest of a nearby hill and he stood up to get a better view. It was indeed a very grand procession the likes of which he had never seen before.  There were very many men and women all dressed in the finest of silks carry banners and flags and marching to the beat of a drum. There were so many in the distance it looked like a long line of ants coming over the hill.

At the heart of the procession was a carriage that was borne aloft proudly.  Akinosuke watched and was surprised to see that it was making directly for his dwelling.  As it drew nearer he could see that the carriage was richly decorated with silks of blue and gold and obviously carried someone who must have been very important indeed. The procession proceeded unerringly to his gate and stopped.  The carriage door opened and a tall, thin man dressed in the most exquisite finery got out. In a mostly stately way he approached the surprised and bemused Akinosuke, who awestruck, bowed low while the visitor greeted him thus,

“Most honorable Miyata Akinosuke you see before you an envoy and servant of the King in Tokyo.  I am commanded to greet you in the name of the King and put myself entirely at your service. He has commanded me to inform you that he seeks your presence at his palace and has tasked me to escort you into his esteemed presence.  Therefore, please enter this most honorable of carriages that he has sent for this purpose and allow me to be your personal guide to his royal presence.”

With that the messenger stood aside holding the carriage door open, gesturing for the bewildered Akinosuke to step inside.   He wanted to make some kind of fitting reply but was too astonished and overwhelmed.  Instead, he meekly obeyed and stepped into the carriage and his guide sat down beside him.  With a word of command the carriage proceeded to the King’s palace. 

The Palace

They traveled at surprising speed and within a short time were outside the palace gates.  The envoy announced he would go and inform the King of Akinosuke’s arrival and he was to wait here until sent for. Presently two noblemen wearing the purple silks and caps of high rank arrived.  They greeted him with all due respect and escorted him through a most beautiful garden, the vastness of which appeared to extend in all directions for many miles.

At last they entered the palace and Akinosuke was shown into a most splendid reception room with many ornate carvings and works of art upon the walls.  He was seated in a place of honor while two servants brought him food and drink. After he had taken refreshment the two nobles in purple bowed low and speaking in turns said to him thus,

“It is our duty and pleasure to inform you that the reason you have been brought here is because the King, our most noble master, desires greatly that you become his son-in-law.  It is his greatest wish that this will happen today. Therefore, you will marry his daughter the August Princess this day. When the time comes we will escort you to your wedding, but first we will provide you with appropriate apparel for such a splendid and important ceremony.”

Having finished their speech the two nobles went over to a great gilded chest and lifting the lid drew out various items of clothing.  These were of the finest and richest silks and styled for royalty and were indeed most suitable for the bridegroom of a royal wedding.  After he was dressed in the very finest of fashions befitting such a special occasion he was led into a hall where the King and his highest dignitaries and nobles awaited the arrival of Akinosuke.

The Marriage Of Akinosuke

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Akinosuke saluted, bowed and  knelt before the King who greeted him graciously and spoke to him thus,

“You have been informed that it is my desire that you will become my son-in-law and the husband of my only daughter – the August Princess.  We shall now proceed with the wedding.”

With that he clapped his hands and the sound of joyful music filled the  hall and a long line of beautiful ladies of the Royal court appeared. Solemnly they escorted Akinosuke to another hall where his bride awaited dressed most beautifully for her wedding.

The wedding hall was huge and richly decorated and despite its size it was barely big enough to seat all of the guests who swarmed everywhere.  Everyone stopped and bowed as he entered escorted by the ladies of the court and he took his place kneeling on a cushion facing his bride. In her gorgeous silk wedding dress the color of the bluest summer  sky she looked indeed the August Princess. 

The marriage rites were performed with great ceremony and dignity and afterwards the newly married couple were escorted to a special suite of apartments especially prepared for them.  The King and all the guests were overjoyed and Akinosuke and his wife radiating happiness received many wonderful presents and the blessings of everyone.

Although they had not met each other before or heard of one another in the past, Akinosuke and his wife were very happy together enjoying the company of each other.  The days passed joyfully and presently Akinosuke was summoned to appear before the King.  He feared he had done something wrong but instead the King spoke to him thus,

“The island of Rashi lies in the southwestern part of my realm and I have decided to appoint you the Governor of Raishu in my name.  The people of the island are very loyal and peaceful but their laws have never been brought into alignment with the laws and customs of my realm. I am entrusting you with this task and with improving their lives and social condition as much as is possible.  It is my desire that you rule them with kindness, justice and wisdom. All the preparations for the journey and your arrival have been made and you will leave in the morning.’

The Island of Raishu

The next morning Akinosuke and his wife left the palace with a great escort of nobles, palace officials and courtesans who accompanied them to the harbor.  There he and his wife boarded one of the King’ s own ships to take them to  Raishu and take up the governorship of the island. They had a good wind and fair weather and soon arrived safely in the harbor of the island to find the people had all come out and were lining the shores to welcome them.

After a warm reception from the people Akinosuke began his governorship and put his heart and soul into the task.  In the first three years he reformed the laws to align with those of the King in Tokyo. He was lucky to have the help of wise counselors who knew the people very well.  This helped him considerably and he never grew tired or bored with the task. When it was all complete he found he only had a few active duties to carry out and most of these were of a ceremonial nature.

The island was very fertile and grew all the crops the people needed and they also fished the seas.  The weather always seemed to just right so there was never famine or starvation. The people were hard working and peaceful never broke any laws so there was little for him to do.

Akinosuke lived and ruled on the island for another twenty years making twenty three in total and in that time he was happy.  He grew to love his wife and she him and they were very close and happy together. She bore him seven fine children – five strapping sons  and two beautiful daughters.

In the beginning of the twenty fourth year of his governorship his beloved wife fell sick and died.  Akinosuke was grief stricken but as tradition required he made sure she was buried with all the dignity and ceremony befitting her status.  He had her buried on a beautiful hill with a fittingly splendid monument raised over her. Unfortunately and understandably her death had left him devastated and he no longer cared for himself or wanted to live.

After the customary period of mourning was complete a ship sailed in from Tokyo bearing a royal messenger from the King.  The messenger hastened to Akinosuke to deliver a message of condolence directly from the King telling him thus,

Return Home

“The King our lord and master sends his deep condolences to you and your children.  You have worked hard and done a splendid job on Raishu but it is now time you returned to your own country.  Have no fear for your seven children for they are also my grandsons and granddaughters and I will look after them.”

Akinosuke on hearing this order submissively prepared to leave the island.  When all was made ready for his departure and all necessary rituals and ceremonies were completed he said goodbye to his children,  councilors and officials and was escorted in a grand procession to the harbor where he took the ship for home.

The ship sailed out of the harbor into the blue sea and towards the blue sky of the horizon.  Akinosuke turned to look at the island in a last farewell and watched as it’s shape turned to blue and then, grey and vanished forever from his sight – and at this point he woke up to find himself lying in the shade of the cedar tree in his very own garden. For a moment or two he was dazed and bewildered and rubbed his eyes.  Looking around he saw his two friends sitting nearby drinking wine and chatting happily to each other and he cried out loud,

“How strange this is!!”

His two friends looked over to him and laughed when they heard him.  
“Ha!” laughed one, “Our friend, Akinosuke has been dreaming!  Tell us your strange dream my friend.”

” I think the wine got the better of him,” teased the other, “but do tell us!”

Therefore, Akinosuke told them his strange dream and how he had spent  over twenty three years living on the island of Raishu in the realm of the King of Tokyo.  He told how he was married and of his children and finally how his beloved wife had died. 

The Butterfly

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His two friends were astonished at his tale and insisted he had only been asleep for a few minutes at the most.  One of them told him that while he had been asleep they had witnessed a very strange thing and he spoke thus,

“While you were asleep we saw a very strange thing happen. A small yellow butterfly appeared and  fluttered and hovered over your face for a brief moment or two.  We watched and saw it settle on the ground beside you as you lay close to the cedar tree.  Almost immediately an exceptionally large ant rushed from a hole by the tree and seizing the butterfly ran back down the hole carrying it with him.

Just before you woke we saw the same yellow butterfly crawl out of the hole and flutter up to hover before your face before suddenly vanishing.  I do not know where it went but it was gone.”

The second nodded in agreement and then he spoke,

“Maybe it was our friend Akinosuke’s soul.  I thought perhaps it flew into his mouth but even if it was our friend’s soul it does not explain the dream.”

The Realm of the Ants

“Maybe the ants explain it,” said the first, ” they are peculiar beings and there is a large ant’s nest by the hole of the tree.”

Akinosuke jumped up and cried, “Let us investigate!” And rushed off to fetch a spade.

On his return he set about gently clearing the soil away to carefully reveal that the nest had been excavated and built in the most surprisingly complex way.  The huge population of ants that lived there had turned the colony into a miniature world with some similarity to that of humans. There were tiny buildings made from straw, clay and stems that gave the nest the look of scaled-down versions of human towns and cities.

In the very center of the colony was a structure larger than all of the others which contained a swarm of small ants appearing to work around the body of one very large ant that had a black head and pale yellow wings.

Akinosuke cried,

” Look! There is the King in the palace of Tokyo that I saw in my dream!  How amazing and extraordinary! If that is so, the island of Raisu should lie somewhere to the southwest – and there it is by that root … now can I find the green hill and the tomb of my beloved wife – Yes, there it is – how remarkable!”

Looking closely, Akinosuke saw the small hill in the nest and on top of the hill was a worn polished pebble very similar in shape to the monument he had placed over the body of his wife.  Gently lifting up the pebble he was astonished to see covered in clay the dead body of a female ant.

The End

Ants, Humans and the Butterfly Soul

There are some people who see parallels between ants and humans.  Such philosophers see similarities in the two societies while comparing the differences.  The cities humans build and live in are seen in parallel with the ant colonies and the two societies compared.  In human cities the swarms of humans may all appear to be busy working for the greater good of their society. However, on closer inspection it is found that this is so only as far as it does not encroach upon their own selfish needs and desires which may be at odds with the well-being of their society and even their own butterfly soul.

Ants are seen to be regimented and industrious giving up or not possessing such selfish needs and desires working entirely for the good of their society.  These same philosophers argue that humans with their selfishness damage the good of their society while the ants give up the wants of the self in favor of maintaining the good of their society and their butterfly soul – assuming ants have any kind of soul at all.   Therefore, they claim ants are superior to humans and their society further evolved.  Such philosophers are not renowned for their sense of humor, but personally I always think it one of the greatest of human attributes, though I am not sure ants have one. I wonder though, what do you think of these strange matters of ants, dreaming humans and the butterfly soul?

© 23/10/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 23rd, 2019 zteve t evans

Chinese Folktales: Lu-san, Daughter of Heaven

Kwan Yin by 6paramitasSource

Presented here is a retelling of Chinese folktale called Lu-san, Daughter of Heaven from a compilation by Norman Hinsdale Pitman called, A Chinese Wonder Book and Illustrated by Li Ch-T’ang.  The goddess known as Kwan-yin is also known as Guanyin and several other names that vary with country and region and its use here follows that of Pitman.

Lu-san, Daughter of Heaven

Out of dirt spring flowers; out of mud comes goodness and along the Great River in rickety, beaten-up boats lived the boat-people. The land all around was owned by landlords who charged high rents for homes.  Not everyone could afford such rents and such people constructed rickety boats that they moored to the river bank. The boats served as a home and a means to earn a meagre living catching fish which they ate or if there was surplus, sold in the city nearby.  It was a hard and miserable existence living from day to day with no hope of betterment. Although everyone tried hard to maintain their dignity and faith sometimes one or two failed and acted in unworthy ways.

It is in this setting we find a young girl named Lu-san who lived with her parents and four brothers in a boat moored on the Great River.  As usual, she had gone to bed hungry with no supper because there was no food to be had.   Although  she was famished, it was not food that she hungered most for, it was love.  At night she cuddled up close to her brothers but they pushed her away so even in sleep she was denied the affection she desperately sought.  In her short life all she had known was scorn and hard words from her family and she longed so much for warmth and affection. She could hear the water gently lapping against the boat and usually it sent her to sleep, but not this night.

Perpetual Struggle

Her father was a fisherman and all his life had lived on a knife edge barely surviving the grinding poverty while struggling to provide for his family.  He had become cold, devoid of emotion and wicked; hardened by the perpetual struggle to survive. He lost his faith, lost his dignity and lost his love for his wife and children and treated them cruelly. He blamed them for his lot in life but little Lu-san he treated worse of all.  He had threatened to drown all of his children in the past to be free of the responsibility of bringing them up and it was only his fear of the mandarin who administered the area that prevented him. His wife and his four sons had caught his affliction and they also treated poor Lu-san badly seeking to deflect his wrath from them to her.

It has to be said that her mother was almost as bad as her father.   She too was cold, impatient and cruel to the children always joining in when her husband berated them.  For some unknown reason both mother and father resented and even hated Lu-san more than her siblings and she always bore the brunt of their wrath.  Her parents had no love in them at all and Lu-san yearned to be taken into the arms of someone warm, kind and caring and cuddled like she had seen other parents do with their children.  It never happened. Instead of warmth and love she received nothing but hard words and beatings from her own parents who, sinking to undreamed of depths of depravity, had made plans to be rid of their little girl. 

Fear in the Night

On this night as she lay in bed below deck after another miserable and lonely day to her horror  she heard her parents talking above her on deck.“It will be alright.  We have a new mandarin and  he will be too busy administering for the emperor and will never find out,” said her father.

“The  girl is always in the way – always  in the wrong place and our boat is too small and she is growing and eats as much as the boys.  We will be better off without her,” replied her mother.

“That is true,” replied her father, “the sooner it is done the better!”
“Yes, but wait until the moon has  gone down then do it,” said her mother.
“As soon as the moon has gone down we will do it! Let us sleep until then …” replied her father.

Lu-san’s heart began to beat fast and fear washed over her as she realised they were talking about her.  She had no doubt what her parents meant to do and prayed to her goddess for guidance. As soon as she heard them snoring on deck above her she quickly and quietly dressed herself and carefully and silently climbed up the ladder to the deck above.  She had but one thought in her mind and that was to escape. She did not take any extra clothes or food because there was none. All she wanted to do was escape as quickly as possible without disturbing her sleeping parents.

Escape  in the Dark

The only single thing she took with her along with the rags that clung to her body was a small soapstone statuette of the goddess Kwan-yin.  She had found it one morning as she walked on the dried mud along the river shore. It had caught her eye as it stuck out of the dirt like a flower.  Throughout her few years of life this had been her sole treasure, the only plaything she had ever possessed that was hers alone. She knew if her mother or father ever found it they would beat her for not handing it to them and take it away and sell it.  Therefore, she kept it hidden close to her heart and she cherished this small image of Kwan-yin more than gold or jewels. She had listened to stories from an old priest and learnt that Kwan-yin was the Goddess of Mercy and cared for women and children who could pray to her in troubled times.  Lu-san had prayed to her often.

Like a small ghost she flitted silently across the deck and stepped on to the bank.  The moon had gone down, the air was cold and she could hear the frogs croaking. Without  looking back she ran silently along the shore. Each time she heard someone she hid in the shadows until they had gone and then ran on keeping her nerve.  The only time she was afraid was when a large dog ran snarling at her but stopped short to look at her and sniff before running off in the opposite direction.

She had not had time to make a plan  but she thought it likely that if her parents found her gone they would be only too glad and not come after her.  It was not her parents she feared but some of the boat people who if they caught her might sell her to the city folk as a servant. She had heard tell of some of the dreadful things that happened to those children who they caught and sold.  That was why she feared the boat people and ran as fast as her legs would carry her past the line of tied up boats along the river shore.

She wanted to flee the  cold, dark river and find her way to the sunshine lands which she loved. Carefully and quietly she ran as fast as she could past the last of the boats until she was a long way beyond them and completely alone in the dark.  At last her legs gave way and she fell in a heap on the dirt and hard baked mud breathless and lay on her back looking up at the stars that sprawled and glittered across the dark sky.  

Looking up at the vastness of the sky and the multitude of glittering stars she was struck by how small and insignificant she was and a great feeling of loneliness washed over her.  Now she had no siblings, no parents and no friends in the world. Indeed she had never had a friend or a playmate and now she lay alone in the darkness under the stars overwhelmed by the magnitude of the universe.  She knew the city was not far away with all its great buildings, multitudes of people and the roaring of voices. She felt inside her ragged clothing and pulled out the little statuette of Kwan-yin and clutching it to her small, lonely heart, whispered a childish prayer  and cried herself to sleep.

Kwan-yin

Awaking with a start she found a strange person standing over her looking down at her.  She saw it was a beautiful woman dressed in the most gorgeous clothes she had ever seen in her life.   Such clothes could only have been worn by a princess or someone very special. The woman stood tall and erect in the dirt and hard-baked mud of the river shore like a beautiful flower in the dark. As Lu-san gazed at the lovely face and looked into those deep, dark, eyes she was suddenly conscious of her own rags and impoverishment.  Embarrassed at her own condition she shrank away fearing that this perfect being would touch her and soil their own perfection.

Strangely,  she was overcome by the impulse to throw herself into the arms of this most perfect of women and beg her for mercy.  It was only the fear that she might vanish before her eyes that stopped her.  Therefore, slowly she held out the little statuette of Kwan-yin to the woman and said, “You must be  the most beautiful princess in the world!  This must belong to you. Please take it I found it in the dirt and mud.  It is all I have ever had, but please take it!”

The princess bent down and gently took the statuette and looked at it with great interest then smiled and said, “And do you know who it is that you are giving this statuette to?”

“I do not know,” replied  Lu-san, “I found it in the dirt and mud by the river.  All I know is that it is all I have ever had in the world and that you are so beautiful that it must surely belong to you.  Please take it.”

To little Lu-san’s  surprise and delight a wonderfully strange thing happened which she had never experienced before. The graceful, elegant lady bent her body towards her holding out her arms in invitation to the ragged and bedraggled little girl.  Lu-san hesitated for a second and then with a cry of sheer joy threw herself into the arms of the lady who took her up and whirled her around holding her close to her. At last little Lu-san had found the love that she had yearned  for so long and she clung to the lady who kept her in a tight embrace.

“My child, do you know who this statuette represents that you have kept so carefully, so lovingly and have given to me so unselfishly without a second thought?” asked the lady quietly.

“Yes, I do,” she replied, “It is the loving goddess Kwan-yin who loves and looks after children and women.”

“And this goddess looked after you  and kept you safe did she?” asked the lady flushing slightly at the innocence of the child.

“Indeed she did, for without her I would not be here with you now.” replied little Lu-san earnestly, “Indeed, without her I would not have escaped my father and mother tonight and would certainly have been killed.  It was the good lady that listened to my prayer and told me what to do.”

“So now that you have escaped, where will you go and what will you do in the world all alone? Where will you live – how will you survive?  Do you not fear to walk in the dark alone?” asked the lady.

“No, no, I have  no fear for the blessed goddess is with  me and will protect me. She has heard my prayers and shown me how to escape and she will show me how to live in the great big world.  She will keep me safe,” replied Lu-san as she cuddled  the lady.

The lady responded warmly to Lu-san who believed she must be in heaven.  She did not see the lady look upward to a certain star and catch its light in her eye.  She did not see a glistening tear roll from the lady’s eye and down her cheek. She did not feel it fall gently upon her forehead because she was sound asleep in the arms of her guardian and knew nothing of the gentle rain that fell from the stars that night.

The Next Morning

In the morning a ray of sunlight found its way through the warped and cracked planks to slip below the deck of her father’s rickety boat to where Lu-san was still sleeping.  As it touched her face she awoke to find herself all alone in her bed. Despite her terror the night before she now experienced no fear at all to be so close to where her parents were. 

She did not know that as she lay asleep her parents had crept down the ladder from the deck and up to the bed of their sleeping daughter.   She did not know they had crept silently to her side intending to grasp and throttle. She did not know of the strange and shocking thing had happened as she slept.  As her father had reached for her throat and her mother to pin her arms a disembodied voice cried out,

“On your knees! Do not dare threaten harm to one who has caused the tears of the great goddess  Kwan-yin to flow! Know that when Kwan-yin weeps the gods themselves weep with her! If you ever try and hurt this child again you will burn forever!  Know this – out of dirt spring flowers – out of mud comes goodness!”

With that her mother and father fell on their knees before their sleeping daughter and as they did so they felt a thousand red hot needles pricking into every part of  their bodies. The terrible sensation lasted but a few seconds and then their heads were forced down until their foreheads touched the wooden floor before their sleeping daughter and the terrible voice spoke again,

“Now swear obseiance to Lu-san and leave her to rest.  Go and await for this Daughter of Heaven to awake and then you will serve her faithfully!”

Her terrified parents crawled painfully across the wooden planks of the floor and up the ladder to wait on deck for their daughter to awake.  They gathered their sons together and huddled in a corner seeking shelter from the cold drizzle which now fell from the sky upon them.

The  Transformation

Below deck Lu-san gently awoke and lay listening and heard low voices talking on deck just above her head.  Unusually their voices did not sound harsh and cruel, instead they spoke in hushed tones as if not wishing to disturb the peace of their sleeping daughter.

“What happened?” asked her father trembling, “Did you hear that terrible voice?  Did you feel the burning needles?”

“I did feel those burning needles and heard that terrible voice,”  replied his wife, “It could  only have been the gods warning us!”

“Yes, it must have been the gods,” replied her husband, “but it is strange now that I think about it how we came to hate our daughter, for I now see how wrong and wicked we are.”

“Indeed, I do not know what happened to us.  We must have been blind that we could not see her goodness, our hearts numb that we could not feel her love.  We must be evil indeed and the gods will rightly punish us for our wickedness!” replied his wife.

As she listened to her parents she experienced great love welling up in her heart for them and rose  from bed . She decided that she would tell them she loved them despite their evil treatment of her and no matter what they did to her.   Looking around for her ragged clothes she was surprised she could not find them but instead found carefully placed on one side of the bed the most beautiful clothes she had ever seen.  They were made of the finest silk and gaily decorated with birds and flowers and as there was nothing else for her to wear she slipped these on discovering they fitted perfectly.

As she dressed she glanced at her fingers and saw they were now long and elegant and her hands that had been rough and worn with work were now smooth and soft.  Looking around she found a pair of red silk slippers on the bed and put them on. As she did so she was astounded to see that her feet that had been blistered, cracked and calloused were now healed.  She had always walked barefoot having never had shoes and sliding on the slippers she stepped daintily across the rough wooden planks that made the floor. 

To her surprise wherever she placed her feet the planks transformed into smooth rich red polished flooring.  As she looked around at the rude wooden room below deck wherever her glance fell the rough walls appeared gaily decorated.  As she climbed up the old wooden ladder it transformed into a magnificent wooden stair and as she stepped on deck the drizzle stopped and the sun came out.  As she crossed the deck the rough boards transformed beneath her feet to beautiful polished wood and wherever she glanced around the rickety old boat transformed into magnificent ship with a full crew of sailors.

Looking around for her parents she found them huddled with her brothers in a corner.  They were trembling with fear at her approach and looked terrified. Her mother tried to speak but her mouth would not open.  Her father stared in awe at her and mumbled, “A goddess has come down from Heaven, have mercy on us!”  Her brothers hid their eyes in their hands as if dazzled and sheltered behind their parents.

Transformation  Complete

Lu-san paused before them her transformation complete  and said, “Mother, father, my brothers, do you not recognise me?  Father, mother, I am Lu-san your daughter. My brothers I am your sister. Do you not know me?”

Her father looked at her in fear and wonder and his cruel face took on a strange light, while his body trembled and shook.  To her surprise he knelt before her and bent his head so low he touched the deck with his forehead before her feet. Her mother and her brothers did exactly the same and then gazed in awe at her waiting for her to speak.

“Tell me father, tell me that you love me,  Tell me that you will not kill your only daughter,” said Lu-san.

“You must surely be a daughter of the gods,” murmured her father in a daze, “ but I … “  and could not continue.

“Have no fear! Tell me father,” she said gently.

“Yes, I do love you.  Can you ever forgive me?” he replied.

Lu-san stepped forward and placed her left hand on her kneeling father’s forehead and placed her right hand over the heads of her mother and brothers and said,

“Just as Kwan-yin, Goddess of Mercy, has smiled upon me and given me her blessing, I bestow upon you my father, my mother and my brothers my love and the love of heaven.  When the time comes that only love shall rule your hearts this ship will be yours and all that it carries and I will leave. Out of dirt springs flowers; out of mud comes goodness!”

As Lu-san had been transformed so too were her parents and her brothers.  From the poor wretched family that had struggled to make a living along the Great  River they began to enjoy peace and happiness. For her parents, especially her father it was not an easy transformation for the misery of the years had ingrained deep in him.  Every now and then he flew into a rage before quickly calming himself down to feel ashamed. Her mother too, still hurled the occasionally spiteful word or retort before suddenly thinking better and holding her tongue.  Nevertheless, although it was a slow and painful lesson they did learn that love was the way and thanked the mud and dirt of river life for the lesson they received from their daughter.

The family sailed the great ship up and down the Great River its company of sailors obeying Lu-san’s every command.  Wherever she told them to cast the nets they caught masses of the largest and best fish and sold them in the markets of the towns and cities along the Great River.  Soon Lu-san and her family were deemed to be among the wealthiest that lived and worked along the river.

A Flight of Doves

One fine day Lu-san led her family to a temple to celebrate the birthday of Kwan-yin.  As they returned and boarded the ship her father pointed to a spot in the sky just above the horizon, “What is that!” he exclaimed, “What manner of birds  are they that are flying this way?  What is it they carry?”

As the birds drew near they saw it was a flight of pure white doves carrying a strange object below them.    Her mother and father gazed in wonder and her brothers became excited and began to jump up and down. Lu-san just smiled serenely and remained calm and quiet as if she had been expecting the arrival of these birds.

“Look!” cried her father, “It is a flight of doves, but what is it they carry?”

As the flight of doves drew closer they saw that from their necks trailed golden ribbons. These were attached to a most wonderful chair that was as pure white as the doves and inlaid with gold and precious gems and floated  below the birds as they flew. The flight of doves flew to the ship carrying the chair below them and on reaching the ship paused their flight. Hovering over the deck they gently let the chair descend before Lu-san. She turned to her parents and brothers and kissing them goodbye seated herself in the wonderful chair.   As the doves rose in the air and carried the chair and Lu-san towards the heavens a voice was heard from the skies saying,

“So it is that Kwan-yin, Mother of Mercies rewards Lu-san. Daughter of the Earth she will be no longer.  Now she will take her place as a star in the Western Skies as a Daughter of Heaven. Lu-san, know this, those tears you brought from the eyes of Kwan-yin fell upon the dirt and dried mud and from the dirt sprang flowers and from the mud came goodness.”

© 18/092019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 18th, 2019 zteve t evans

Japanese Folktales: The Tale of Rai-Taro, Son of Thunder

Presented below is a retelling of a story called The Good Thunder, from Japanese Fairy Tales by Grace James.

The Good Thunder

Some people say the gods know little of humans and care little. One of the gods heard this and was stung by the criticism.  He decided he would send his son to live with people to complete his education to learn what he could about humans. He would then return and teach the gods the knowledge he had acquired.

Raiden Sama, God of Thunder

The name of the god was Raiden Sama, God of Thunder and Lord of the Elements. He lived in his Castle of Cloud high in the Heavens with his son Rai Taro.  Sometimes they would walk the ramparts together looking down to see what the people were doing. At these times Rai-Taro liked to watch the children at play and was struck by the love their parents had for them.  Raiden also loved his son very much and he knew it was time for him to complete his education and he had settled upon a plan.

One day he called his son from his play to him walk the ramparts of the Castle of Cloud with him.   His son dutifully complied and hand in hand they went up to the battlements. Raiden led his son to the northern rampart and they stood looking down.  Far below they saw many fierce warriors with swords and spears following their lords into battle. There was much bloodshed and many were killed.

They walked to the eastern battlements and looked down and Rai Taro saw a fair princess in her bower.  All around were handmaidens wearing rose colored garments who made beautiful music for her and there were children playing with flowers making necklaces from them.

“Oh, see the children make flower necklaces!” exclaimed Rai Taro. It seemed idyllic but it was a life of idleness and frivolity.

They walked to the southern battlements and looked down and saw priests and holy men worshiping in a temple.  The air was heavy with incense and there were statues of ebony, ivory, diamond and jade while outside the temple the people were all terribly afraid.

They went to the western battlement and looked down.  Far down below they saw a poor peasant toiling in his field, tired and aching.  By his side his wife worked. He looked tired and weary but his poor wife looked even more worn out.  It was easy to see they were very poor and were dressed in ragged clothing and looked hungry.

“They look so tired, have they no children to help them?” asked Rai Taro.

“No,” replied his father, “they have no children.”

Raiden let Rai-Taro look all he wanted then said, “Well, my son, you have looked long and hard upon humans going about their business.  You are now old enough to begin your education on Earth and you will need a home there.  Therefore, from what you have seen, to whom would you have me send you to?”

“Must I go, father, is it necessary?” asked his son.

The Choice of Rao-Taro

“It is necessary, therefore choose,” said his father kindly, “and  when you return you will teach the gods about humans.”

“I will not go with the warriors and men of war.  I do not like fighting!”

“Oh, so you do not like fighting men.  Very well, will you choose to go to the fair princess?” asked his father, smiling.

“No, I will not go to live with the princess.  Life looks so easy and cosy yet somehow false.”

“Then perhaps the temple is for you?” asked his father.

“No, I do not want to shave my head and live with the priests, spending all day in prayer while the people outside are afraid.”

“But surely you do not want to go and live with the peasants.  It is a life of work and hardship and little food,” replied his father.

“They do not have children.  Maybe they will grow to love me and I will be a son to them and bring them happiness.”

“Ah!” said his father, pleased at his choice, “You have made a wise choice, my son.”

“Very well, father but how shall I go?”

“You  shall go in a way that behooves the son of the God of Thunder and the Elements,” replied his father.

Earth

The poor  peasant and his wife toiling  in their rice-field lived at the foot of  Hakusan, a mountain in the province of Ichizen.  They were struggling to make a living because everyday for weeks on end the sun had shone bright and hot and dried up their paddy field.  The next day the old man went alone to the field to examine the crop and was shocked at what he saw. All the young plants were shriveled and he cried, “Alas, what shall we do if the crop dies.  May the gods look down upon us and have mercy!”

Sitting  on the ground in despair, his weariness caused him to quickly fall asleep.  He awoke to find the sky had darkened even though it was only noon and the birds had stopped  singing and taken shelter in the trees.  
“At last, a storm, we shall have rain! Raiden is  out riding his black horse and beating his drum, we shall have rain,” he cried in delight.

The thunder rolled and the lightning flashed and the rain fell in torrents and the old man began to worry there was too much and said, “I give thanks for what you have sent honorable Raiden but we have sufficient for our needs now!”

As if in answer there was a mighty peel of thunder and a terrific flash as a ball of living fire fell to earth.  The poor terrified peasant threw himself on the ground wailing, “Mercy! Mercy! Mercy! Raiden – Kwannon please have mercy upon this sinful soul,” and  hid his face in his hands

At last the thunder stopped roaring and he stood up and  looked around. The ball of flames had gone but upon the earth there lay a baby boy, wet and clean in the rain.  The poor peasant ran to the boy and picking him up cradled him in his arms lovingly and said, “My Lady Kanzeon, Lady of Compassion you are merciful and I thank you with all my heart!” 

He lifted up his head and looked into the grey skies.  Rain fell into his eyes and down his cheeks like tears and the clouds parted revealing a beautiful blue sky.  All the flowers around him were revived by the cool rain and nodded as if in acknowledgement of the miracle. Carefully and gratefully he carried the boy home.  As he went in the door he cried out, “Wife come quick, I have brought you something!”

“Oh, and what could that be?” asked his wife

“Why, it is the son of the Thunder, Rai-Taro!” he answered as he carefully placed the child into his wife’s welcoming arms.

Life on Earth

The poor couple looked after Rai-Taro the best they could.  What they lacked in riches they made up for in love and dedication.  He grew up strong and tall and the happiest boy ever. He was the pride and joy of his foster-parents and a great favorite with all the neighbors.   From the age of ten he worked alongside his foster-father in the fields like a man and he was excellent at forecasting the weather which was always useful.

Often as they worked together, he would say, “Father, I think we shall have good weather,”  or, “I think there will be a storm tomorrow,” and in this way helped his father and his neighbors plan their work, for he was always right.  His arrival also seemed to bring good fortune for his foster-parents who began to prosper.

Every year the old couple celebrated their foster-son’s birthday on the anniversary of the day they found him.  On his eighteenth birthday his foster-parents went to great lengths to celebrate his birthday with a great feast.  They invited all their neighbors and there was plenty to eat and drink and everyone was happy all except for Rai-Taro who appeared sad.

His foster-mother called him to her and asked, “Why are you so glum on your birthday.  It is a day of great celebration. You are usually the happiest and gayest of people, are you ill?” 

Farewell

“Forgive me,” he said, “ I am unhappy because I know I must leave.”

“But why must you leave?” she asked confused.

“I have to – I just have to.  My time here is over and I must return from where I came.” said Rai-Taro sadly.

His father said, “Rai-Taro my son, you brought us good fortune.  Through you we have raised ourselves from where we were and you have given us your love.  All of this you have given us, what have we given to you?”

“I have learnt three important lessons from you.   The first is how to work. The second is how to suffer in dignity, the third is how to love unconditionally.  Therefore, I am now more learned than the Immortals and I thank you, but I must return to teach them.”

Then he embraced his foster-parents and took on the likeness of a white cloud and ascended into heaven until he reached the Castle of Cloud.  His father received him joyfully with open arms and the two stood upon the western battlements and looked down to earth.

On Earth, his foster-mother wept bitterly but her husband took her by the hand and said,

“Weep not,” he said, “we are grown old together, we do not have long.”

“True, my dear,” she said, “ but now Rai-Taro will never learn the lesson of death and now the gods will never know.”

The old man took his wife in his arms and he wept too.

© 10/07/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 10th, 2019 zteve t evans

Japanese Folktales: A Bridge of Magpies

A bridge of Magpies – Warwick Goble [Public domain]

This is a retelling of a Japanese folktale called The Star Lovers, from a collection by Grace Jones titled, Japanese Fairy Tales.

The Weaving Maiden

It is a love story from the old days of old Japan and tells of the Weaving Maiden who dwelt upon the shore of the Bright River of Heaven.  Her duty was to weave the garments for all of the gods. She took her duty most seriously working tirelessly hour after hour weaving the white cloth for the garments of the gods.  Ream upon ream of cloth lay piled all around her but she never stopped for rest or respite. Instead she spent all her time weaving. You see she was afraid. She was afraid because she had heard this saying,

“Sorrow, sorrow, age-long sorrow
And  eternal gloom
Shall fall upon the Weaving Maiden
When she leaves her loom.”

Therefore, she worked every hour, day and night making the clothing for the gods.  In truth, they had clothes to spare. Conversely, in her efforts to clothe them she never took the time to ensure she was clad elegantly as befitted her own status.  Instead she wore an old ill-fitting and worn tunic. She never bothered with the beautiful jewelry her father often lavished upon her either. Instead, she went bare of foot and allowed her hair to stream down over her shoulders and her back.   When she was at work on the loom she just flung it casually over her one shoulder to keep it out of the way.

All her time was taken up with her work and she had never played with the other children of the gods among the stars.  She had never interacted with them at all. She did not love or weep and she did not eat, she was not glad or sorry . She just sat at her loom and shuttle and wove and wove. She wove her very being into the cloth that she was weaving and it came out white.

At last her father noticed her industry and said, “ My daughter, you are working too hard.”

“But it is my duty, father,” she replied.

“Nonsense! You are too young to think of duty,” he replied.

“Father, why are you are displeased with me?” she asked.

“Daughter, are you wood, are you stone, or perhaps a pale flower all alone on the wayside?” he asked.

“Father, you know well I am none of these, therefore why do you ask?” she replied.

“Indeed, you are none of these, therefore, leave your loom and go out and live.  Enjoy yourself and make friends and have fun. Be like others of your own age and live,” he answered.

“Why ever should I be like others!” she asked.

“What,you dare to question me your father? Leave your loom now!”  he said sternly.

But she replied,

“Sorrow, sorrow, age-long sorrow
And  eternal gloom …

But her father cut her short saying angrily, “Do not throw that foolish saying at me.  Age-long sorrow has no relevance to us, we are gods!”.

Taking her hand gently, but firmly, he covered over the loom and led her from the room.  He gave her beautiful clothing and made sure her hair was groomed and styled and adorned with jewels and flowers and he gave her wonderful jewelry and gems.  He made her look wonderfully beautiful and the first one to notice her was the Herd Boy of Heaven who looked after the flocks and herds along the banks of the Bright River.  

The Herd Boy of Heaven

The Weaving Maiden was transformed beyond all recognition.  Her lips were red and her eyes were like the stars she now played among.  She sang and danced all day long and made many, many new friends. Instead of spending long hours at the loom alone she played with the children of the Gods.  She danced lightly across the sky in shoes made of silver with the Herd Boy of Heaven and soon they were lovers.  Their laughter resounded through the Heavens and the gods themselves joined in.   For the first time in her life she was enjoying herself and having fun and she had someone she loved who loved her greatly and she was happy.  In her happiness she said,  “No longer will I spend long hours at the loom weaving the clothes of the gods and goddesses.”

She stopped worry about fulfilling her duty and stopped using her loom altogether.

“I have my life to live and will weave no more!” she said to herself and ran to the Herd Boy who held her in his arms, her eyes shining and her face smiling.  From then on she lived her life as she thought she should. But the gods began to run out of new clothes and her father grew angry and said,

“Has my daughter gone mad? Everyone is laughing at her and who will weave the gods new clothes this spring?”

Three times he called his daughter to him and warned her.  Three times she ignored him and the last time she said,

“But father, who was it who stopped me weaving?  Who was it who clad me in fine clothes and jewels and sent me away from my loom?  Father you are the one who opened the door and now neither mortal or god can shut it!”

“You think I cannot stop it?  I will show you what I can do!”   He called the magpies of the earth and they  flocked to him from near and far. Spreading their wings from end to end they formed a fragile bridge spanning the Bright River. With no further discussion he banished the Herd Boy to the far side of the Bright River and he sadly stepped over the fragile bridge.  She wept bitterly as she watched her love cross the frail bridge of magpies. Once he had stepped onto the other side of the Bright River the magpies quickly flew up dispersing to where they had come from. The Weaving Maiden was left standing on the opposite bank with her father unable to follow.

Sorrow

She stood upon the shore holding her arms out to her love on the opposite shore and crying. Throwing herself down on the river bank she sobbed her heart out while the Herd Boy sobbing disconsolately held out his arms to her.  A long time she lay sobbing on the ground until she could cry no more.

At last she rose and returned to her loom and began working away again. After a while she stopped and gazed into space and said,

“Sorrow, sorrow, age-long sorrow
And  eternal gloom …”

Putting her head in her hands she wept.  After a while she stopped, straightened her back and said,

“I will not return to what I was. Once I neither loved or wept.  I was neither sorry of happy. Now, I know how to love, now I know how to weep, now I know what happiness is, now am I know sorrow. I will not go back to what I was!”

Taking up the shuttle she laboured diligently as the tears rolled down her face but she continued weaving the clothing of the gods.  Sometimes the cloth came out grey as grief, at other times it came out rosy or gold as in pleasant dreams and the colours change according to her mood.  This new style of clothing pleased the gods and her father was pleased for a change and said,

“I see I have my hardworking and diligent daughter back and you are happy and quiet.”          

But she told him.

“I am not happy and it is the quiet of dark despair.  I am but the most miserable one in Heaven!”

He looked on his daughter and seeing her heart was breaking he regretted what he had done and said, “Truly, I am sorry but what can I now do?”

“Bring back the Herd Boy of the Bright River – give me back my love!”

“I cannot.  What has been done cannot be undone.  He has been banished by a god and it can never be undone.” he told her regretfully.

“This was my fear, I knew it!” she said bitterly.

He thought for a while and then said,

“Yet, there is one thing I can do.  On the seventh day of the seventh moon, from now until eternity, I will summon the magpies from all parts of the earth to the Bright River.  They shall make a bridge with their wings and you may cross lightly over to the other side to be with your love for one day. Then you must return the same way.”

Thereafter, on the seventh day of the seventh moon the magpies of the earth arrive at  the Bright River and make a frail bridge with their wings. Joyful the Weaving Maiden, with shining eyes, her heart fluttering and smiling happily treads lightly across the bridge into the arms of her waiting lover.  To this day this tryst is kept except when the rains come and the river is too swollen and strong for the magpies to make their bridge. In such times the poor lovers must wait until the seventh day, of the seventh moon, comes around once again and pray for:

Clear skies, fair weather,

A bridge of magpies.

© 24/04/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 24th, 2019 zteve t evans

Japanese Folktales: The Peony Lantern – A Ghost Tale

The Peony Lantern – Warwick Goble [Public domain] Source

This work is a retelling of a kaiden, a traditional Japanese ghost story from a collection retold by Grace James titled, Japanese Fairy Tales, and called The Peony Lantern. There are also versions  called Kaidan Botan Dōrō.  In  many ways it is passionate and  romantic yet has more than a hint of horror involving necrophilia while hinting on the consequences of the karma of the two main characters.

The Peony Lantern

It is said that by the strong bond of illusion the living and the dead are bound together. Now, there was a young samurai who lived in Yedo. His name was Hagiwara and he had reached the most honorable rank of hatamoto. He was a very handsome man, very athletic and light on his feet and his good looks made him very popular with the ladies of Yedo.  Some were very open about their affections, while others were more coy and secretive. For his part he gave little of his time and attention to love. Instead he preferred to join other young men in sports and joyous revelries. He would often be seen socializing and having fun with his favorite companions, very much the life and soul of the party.

The Festival of the New Year

When the Festival of the New Year came he was to be found in the company of laughing youths and happy maidens playing the game of battledore and shuttlecock in the streets.  They had roamed far from their own neighborhood to the other side of town to a suburb of quiet streets and large houses that stood in grand gardens.

Hagiwara was good at the game and used his battledore with impressive skill and technique.   However, the wind caught the shuttle after he had hit it taking it way over the heads of the other players and over a bamboo fence and into a garden.  He ran after it but the others cried, “Leave, Hagiwara, let it stay!  We have plenty more shuttlecocks to play with.  Why waste time on that one?”

Hagiwara heard them but answered, “No my friends, that one was special. It was the color of a dove and gilded with gold.  I will soon fetch it!”

“Let it stay!,” they cried, “we have a dozen here that are dove coloured and gilded with gold.  Let it stay!”

Hagiwara stood staring at the garden.  For some reason he felt a very strong need for that particular shuttlecock and did not know why.  Ignoring his friends he quickly climbed the bamboo fence and jumped down into the garden. He had seen exactly where the shuttlecock landed and thought he would be able to retrieve it quickly, but when he went to the spot it was not there.  For some reason he now considered that particular shuttlecock was his most valuable treasure. He searched up and down the garden, pushing aside bushes and plants, but all to no avail. His friends called him again and again but he ignored them and searched feverishly around the garden for the lost shuttlecock.  Again his friends called, but he ignored them and continued searching. Eventually, they wandered off leaving him alone searching the garden.

He continued searching into the evening ignoring the glorious spectacle of the setting sun and as dusk fell gently he suddenly looked up.  To his surprise there was a girl standing a few yards in front of him. Smiling, she motioned with her right hand while in the the palm of her left she held the shuttlecock he had been searching for.  He moved eagerly towards her but she moved back still presenting the shuttlecock to him, but keeping it out of reach, luring him into him into following her. He followed her through the garden and up three stone steps that led into the house.

On one side of the first step a plum tree stood in white blossom and on the third step stood a most beautiful lady.  She was dressed in celebration of the festival in a kimono of patterned turquoise with long ceremonial sleeves that swept the ground  Underneath she wore garments of scarlet and gold and in her hair were pins of coral, tortoiseshell and gold.

O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew

On seeing the the beautiful lady, Hagiwara immediately knelt before her in reverence and adoration touching his forehead to the ground as a sign of respect.  The lady smiled down on him with shining eyes and then spoke softly,  “Welcome, Hagiwara Sama, most noble samurai of the hatamoto.  Please allow me to introduce myself and my handmaiden. My name is O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew and this is O’Yone my handmaiden. She it it is that has brought you to me and I thank her.  Glad am I to see you and happy indeed is this hour!”

Gently raising him she led him into the house and into a room where ten mats were placed upon the floor.  He was then entertained in the traditional manner as the Lady of the Morning Dew danced for him while her handmaiden beat upon a small scarlet and gold drum.  They set the red rice for him to eat and sweet warm wine to drink as was the tradition and he ate all he was given. It was getting late when he had finished and after pleasant conversation he took his leave and as she showed him to the door the Lady of the Morning Dew whispered, “Most honourable Hagiwara, I would be most happy if you came again.”

Hagiwara was  now in high spirits and flippantly laughed, “And what would it be if I did not return?  What is it if I do not come back, what then?”

O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew flinched and then stiffened and her face grew pale and drawn.  She looked him directly in the eye and laid a hand upon his shoulder and whispered, “It will be death. Death for you, death for me.  That is the only way!”

Standing next to her O’Yone shuddered and hid her face in her hands.

The Charade

Perplexed and very much disturbed, Hagiwara the samurai went off into the night wandering through the  thick darkness of the sleeping city like a lost ghost, very very afraid.

He wandered long in the pitch black night searching for his home.  It was not until the first grey streaks of dawn broke the darkness that he at last found himself standing before his own door.  Tired and weary he went in and threw himself on his bed and then laughed, “Hah, and I have forgotten my shuttlecock!”

In the morning he sat alone thinking about all that had happened the day before. The morning passed and he sat through the afternoon thinking about it.  Evening began to fall and suddenly he stood up saying, “Surely, it was all a joke played on me by two geisha girls.  They will be laughing at me expecting me to turn up but I will show them.  I will not let them make a fool of me!”

Therefore dressing in his best clothes he went out into the evening to find his friends.  For the next week he spent his time sporting and partying and through all these entertainments he was the loudest, the happiest, the wittiest and the wildest, but he knew things were not right.  At last he said, “Enough, I have had enough!  I am sick and tired of all this charade!”

Fever

Leaving his friends he took to roaming the streets alone.  He wandered from one end of Yedo by day and then back again at night.  He sought out the hidden ways of the city, the lost courtyards, the back alleys and the forgotten paths that ran between the houses, searching,  always searching, for what he did not know.

Yet, he could not find the house and  garden of the Lady of the Morning Dew although his restless spirit searched and searched.  Eventually finding himself outside his own home he went to bed and fell into a sickness. For three moons he ate and drank barely enough to keep himself alive and his body grew weak, pale and thin, like some hungry, restless, wraith. Three moons later during the hot rainy season he left his sickbed and wrapping himself in a light summer robe set out into the city despite the entreaties of his good and faithful servant

“Alas, my master has the fever and it is driving him mad!” wailed the servant.

Hagiwara took no notice and looking straight ahead set out with resolve saying, “Have faith! Have faith! All roads will take me to my true love’s house!”

Eventually he came to a quiet suburb of big houses with gardens and saw before him one with a bamboo fence.  Smiling, Hagiwara quickly climbed the fence and jumped down saying, “Now we shall meet again!”

Hagiwara the samurai stood in shocked silence staring at it.  An old man appeared and asked, “Lord, is there something I can do for you?”

However, he was shocked to find the garden was overgrown and unkempt.  Moss had grown over the steps and the plum tree had lost its white blossom, its green leaves fluttered forlornly in the breeze.   The house was dark, quiet and empty, its shutters closed and an air of melancholy hung over it.

The Lady Has Gone

“I see the white blossom has fallen from the plum tree.  Can you tell me where the Lady of the Morning Dew has gone?”  Hagiwara sadly replied.

“Alas, Lord, the Lady of the Morning Dew has fallen like the blossom of the plum tree.  Six moons ago she was taken by a strange illness that could not be alleviated. She now lies dead in the graveyard on the hillside.   Her faithful handmaiden, O’Yone, would not be parted from her and would not allow her mistress to wander through the land of the dead alone and  so lies with her. It is for their sakes that I still come to this garden and do what I can, though being old now that is but little and now the grass grows over their graves.”

Devastated by the news Hagiwara went home.  He wrote the name of O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, on a piece of white wood and then burned incense before it and placed offerings before it.  He made sure he did everything necessary to pay the proper respects and ensure the well being of her spirit.

The Festival of Bon

The time of the returning souls arrived, the Festival of Bon, that honors the spirits of the dead. People carried lanterns and visited the graves of those deceased.  They brought them presents of flowers and food to show they still cared. The days were hot and on first night of the festival Hagiwara unable to sleep walked alone in his garden. It was cooler than the blazing heat of the day and he was thankful for it.  All was quiet and calm and he was enjoying the peacefulness of the night. It was around the hour of the Ox, that he heard the sound of footsteps approach.  It was too dark to see who it was but he could tell there were two different people that he thought were women by the sound of their footsteps. Stepping up to his rose hedge he peered into the darkness to catch sight of who it was approaching.  In the darkness he could make out the figures of two slender women who walked along the lane hand in hand towards him. One held before them on a pole a peony lantern such as those the folk of Yedo used in their traditions to honour the dead and it cast an eerie light around them.  As they approached the lantern was held up to reveal their faces and instantly he recognized them and gave a cry of surprise. The girl holding the peony lantern held it up to light his face

Reunion

“Hagiwara Sama, it is you!  We were told that you were dead.  We have been praying daily for your soul for many moons!” she cried.

“O’Yone, is it really you?” he cried, “and is that truly your mistress, O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, you hold by the hand?”

“Indeed, Lord, is is she who holds my hand,” she replied as they entered the garden, but the Lady of the Morning Dew held up her sleeve so that it covered her face.

“How did I ever lose you?” he asked, “How could it have happened?”

“My Lord, we have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill.  We were not allowed to take anything with us and now we have nothing at all. My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,” said the handmaiden.

Hagiwara the samurai gently drew his Lady’s sleeve away from her face but she turned away.

“Oh, Lord, do not look upon me, I am no longer fair,” she sobbed.  Slowly he turned her around and looked into her face and the flame of love leapt in him and swept through him but he never said a word

As he gazed upon her the Lady of the Morning Dew shrank away saying, “Shall I stay, or shall I go?”

“Stay!” he replied without hesitation.

The Green Hill

Just before dawn Hagiwara fell into a deep slumber,  eventually awakening to find himself alone. Quickly dressing he went out and went through the city of Yedo to the place of the Green Hill.  He asked all he met if they knew where the house of the Lady of the Morning Dew was but no one could help him.  He searched everywhere but found no sign or clue as to where it could be. In despair he turned to go home, lamenting bitterly that for the second time he had lost his love.

Miserably he made his way home.  His path took him through the grounds of a temple situated on a green hill.  Walking through he noticed two graves side by side. One was small and hardly noticeable but the other was larģe and grand marked by a solemn monument.  In front of the monument was a peony lantern with a small bunch of peonies tied to. It was similar in fashion to many of those used throughout Yedo during the Festival of Bon in reverence of the dead.

Nevertheless, it caught his eye and he stood and stared.  As if in a dream he heard the words of O’Yone, the handmaiden,

“We have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill.  … My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”

Then he smiled and understood and he went home.  He was greeted by his servant who asked if he was alright.  The samurai tried to reassure him that he was fine emphasizing that he had never been happier.  However, the servant knew his master and knew something was wrong and said to himself, “My master has the mark of death upon him.  If he dies what will happen to me who has served him since he was a child?”

The faithful servant of Hagiwara realized someone was visiting his master in the night and grew afraid.  On the seventh night he spied on his master through a crack in the window shutters and his blood ran cold at what he saw.  His master was in the embrace of a most fearful and terrifying being whose face was the horror of the grave. He was gazing lovingly into its eyes and smiling at the loathsome thing while all the time stroking and caressing its long dark hair  with his hands.

Illusion and Death

Nevertheless, Hagiwara was happy.  Every night the ladies with the peony lantern came to visit him.  Every night for seven nights no matter how wild the weather they came to him in the hour of the Ox.  Every night Hagiwara lay with the Lady of the Morning Dew. Thus, by the strong bond of illusion were the living and dead merged and bound to each other

Just before dawn the fearful thing from the grave and its companion left. The faithful servant, fearing for his master’s soul went to seek the advice of a holy man.  After relating to him all that he had seen he asked, “ Can my master be saved?”

The holy man thought for a moment and then replied,  “Can humans thwart the power of Karma?  There is little hope but we will do what we can.”

With that he instructed the servant in all that he must do.  When he got home his master was out and he hid in his clothes an emblem of the Tathagata and placed them ready for the next morning for him to wear. After this, above all the doors and windows he placed a sacred text.   When his Hagiwara returned late in the evening he was surprised to find he had suddenly become weak and faint. His faithful servant carried him to bed and gently placed a light cover over him as he fell into a deep sleep.

The servant hid himself that he may spy on whatever might come to pass that night.  With the arrival of the hour of the Ox he heard footsteps outside in the lane. They came nearer and nearer and then slowed down and stopped close to the house and he hears a despairing voice say,

Entry is Barred

“Oh, O’Yone, my faithful handmaiden, what is the meaning of this?  The house is all in darkness. Where is my lord?”

“Come away, come away, mistress, let us go back.  I fear his heart has changed towards you,” whispered O’Yone.

“I will not go.  I will not leave until I have seen my love.  You must get me in to see him!” whispered the Lady of the Morning Dew.

“My Lady, we cannot pass into the house – see the sacred writing over the door over the windows, we cannot enter,”  warned the handmaiden.

The Lady wailed and then began sobbing pitifully, “Hagiwara, my lord, I have loved you through ten lifetimes!”  and then footsteps were heard leaving as O’Yone led her weeping mistress away.

It was the same the next night.  At the hour of the Ox, footsteps in the lane were heard and then a long pitiful wail followed by the sound footsteps disappearing back down the lane as the ghosts departed sobbing and crying.

The next day Hagiwara got up, dressed and went out into the city.  While he was out a pickpocket stole the emblem of Tathagata but he did not notice.  When night came he lay awake unable to sleep but his faithful servant, worn out with worry and lack of sleep dozed off.   In the night a heavy rain fell and and washed the sacred text from over the round window of the bedroom

The hour of the Ox crept round and footsteps were heard in the lane and entering the garden.  Hagiwara listened as they came nearer and nearer until they stopped just outside.

The Power of Karma

“Tonight is the last chance, O’Yone.  You must get me inside to my lord, Hagiwara.  Remember the love of ten lifetimes. The power of Karma is great but we must overcome it.  There must be a way you can get me in to see him!” said the Lady mournfully.

Inside Hagiwara heard them and called out, “Come to me my beloved, I await you!”

“We cannot enter. You must let us in!” she cried.

Hagiwara tried to sit up but he could not move.  “Come to me my beloved!” he called again.

“I cannot enter and I am cut in two.  Alas, for the sins of our previous life!” wailed the Lady.

Then, O’Yone grasped the hand of her mistress and pointed at the round window, “See, Lady, the rain has washed away the text!”

Holding hands the two rose gently upwards and passed  like a mist through the round window into the bedroom of the samurai as he called out, “Come to me my beloved!,”

“Verily Lord, verily, I come!” answered the Lady.

The next morning the faithful servant of Hagiwara of the most honorable rank of hatamoto found his master grey lifeless and cold.  By the side of him stood a peony lantern that still burned with a pale, yellow flame. The faithful servant seeing his master lying still and cold wept saying,  “I cannot bear it.” And so the strong bond of illusion bound together the living and the dead.

The next morning the faithful servant of Hagiwara of the most honorable rank of hatamoto found his master grey lifeless and cold.  By the side of him stood a peony lantern that still burned with a pale, yellow flame. The faithful servant seeing his master lying still and cold wept saying,  “I cannot bear it.” And so the strong bond of illusion bound together the living and the dead.

© 17/04/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 17th, 2019 zteve t evans

Indonesian Folktales: The Legend of the Golden Snail

Source

The Legend of Keong Mas

The legend of Keong Mas, or the Golden Snail, is a popular folktale from East Java, Indonesia.  There are several versions and this retelling draws on more than one source. It tells how many years ago there was a rich and prosperous kingdom called Daha ruled by  King Kertamarta who had two beautiful daughters named Candra Kirana and Dewi Galuh. The princesses were very good friends as well as being sisters and were very happy and content with their lives.  One day a handsome prince from the Kingdom of Kahuripan named Raden Inu Kertapati visited King Kertamarta.  On meeting Candra Kirana for the first time he fell in love with her and she with him and he asked the king for permission to marry  his daughter. King Kertamarta was happy to give his permission and the two were engaged to be married.

The Wicked Witch

Although the two sisters had been happy and good friends up until then Dewi Galuh was now deeply jealous of her sister wishing Prince Raden Inu Kertapati had chosen her instead.  She thought that perhaps is she could somehow get her sister out of the way the prince might instead turn his affections towards her and marry her. Therefore, she sought the help of a wicked witch who suggested she cast a spell and turn her sister, Candra Kirana, into something repulsive to to kill the passion of Prince Raden Inu Kertapati  promising to pay the witch handsomely. The wicked witch agreed but told her she would have to get near enough to cast the spell so she suggested she take her sister for a walk along the river bank where she would disguise herself and lie in wait for them and she transformed herself into a large golden snail.

The Golden Snail

As Dewi Galuh and her sister walked along the river bank they came across the golden snail and Candra Kirana said, “Ugh! What a repulsive creature!” The witch instantly transformed back to herself and cast her spell transforming Princess Candra Kirana into a large golden snail and threw it into the river

One day a very old woman was casting nets into the river hoping to catch some fish.  She did this several times but when she pulled the net out each time she was very disappointed because the net was completely empty of fish.  She decided to have one last go and once again the net was empty of fish but did contain a large golden snail. The grandmother had never seen a golden snail  before and thought it would make a good pet so she took it home and placed in a large jar.

The next morning she went out down to the river with her nets hoping to have better luck than the previous day and catch a few fish.  Again she was disappointed and this time there was not even a snail. She trudged home disconsolate but when she got back she had a big surprise.  When she entered the door she noticed the pleasant aroma of cooking and on the table were beautifully prepared dishes of the most delicious food.

Of course she wondered who had sent her such wonderful food but she counted her blessings and ate it all.  Everyday the old woman would go down to the river and cast her nets into the water and every day she would catch nothing.  Each day on her return there would be a sumptuous feast prepared and waiting on the table for her. Of course, the old woman ate and enjoyed all the food and gave thanks for such blessings but she was curious.  One morning she took her nets and made as if to go down to the river but instead double-backed and peaked through the window to see what might be happening.

At first she saw nothing but then she noticed her golden snail had slithered up the inside of the jar and then down the outside,  To he utter amazement it then began to grow and transform into a beautiful princess who stepped out of the shell. The girl began preparing and cooking ingredients that appeared on the table creating the most wonderfully tasty dishes.  The old woman was surprised and shocked and stepped into house and asked the beautiful princess why she was cooking for an old woman like her.

The Spell is Broken

The Princess of the Golden Snail replied, “I am Princess  Candra Kirana the daughter of King Kertamarta.  who was chosen by Prince Raden Inu Kertapati to be his wife.  My sister Princess Dewi Galuh was jealous and persuaded my wicked witch to transform me into this golden snail.  The old woman was disbelieving of the tale but when remembered how she had seen her transform into a princess from the golden snail before her eyes she was astounded but believed. Now although the old woman was not in anyway magical she possessed a certain wisdom and this wisdom told her that if she broke the golden snail’s shell then the princess would not be able to transform back into a snail and return to it so she crushed the shell under her foot.  Sure enough the princess had nowhere to return to and the spell was broken.

Source

Prince Raden Inu Kertapati

Meanwhile, Prince Raden Inu Kertapati learnt of the disappearance of his true love and was heartbroken.  He loved her with all of his heart and she had become the light of his life, his candle in the dark and he resolved to find her.  He left the king’s court and searched the countryside and traveled to many towns and villages in search of his lost love but could find no trace.

His disappearance from court came to the ears of the wicked witch.  She quickly realised he was searching for Princess Candra Kirana and transformed herself into a crow to seek him out and thwart him.  One day as he was resting under a tree a crow came and perched in a branch above him and began talking to him.  Of course he was surprised by encountering a talking crow but realizing it must be magical listened to what it said.  The crow deceived him telling him that Princess Candra Kirana, the light of his life, his candle in the dark, was kept prisoner by a wicked old woman in a place over the mountains and told him that he would lead him to that place.

The Sorcerer    

Therefore, he followed the crow’s which flew before him.  After many days traveling he came across an old man who was sat by the road begging for food.  The prince had little to give but gave it all anyway even though he knew he would have to go hungry.  The old man thanked him and after he had eaten told him that he was a sorcerer and because he had stopped and given him the last of his food he would help him to find his heart’s desire and asked him what that might be.

Prince Raden Inu Kertapati told him about his search for his lost love and how the crow was leading him to where she was being held prisoner.  The old man looked searchingly at the crow then hit it with his stick and it disappeared in a puff of smoke. The prince was aghast and shouted, Why did you do that?  Now I will never find my lost love who is my heart’s desire!”

The old man smiled and said, “Fear not!  I will tell you where your heart’s desire lies and I will tell you that cast upon her is now broken by an old woman and I know where she is waiting for you.”

The old man told him which village she could be found in and gave him directions and told her she lived with a kind old woman and which house they lived in.  So the prince made his way to the village and when he arrived he was tired and thirsty so he approached one of the huts to ask for drink of water. He knocked on the door and a kind old woman answered and invited him in to have a drink and a rest.  As he entered he was thrilled to see Princess Candra Kirana cooking some food. As soon as she saw him she ran to him and they embraced.

Marriage

Prince Raden Inu Kertapati took Princess  Candra Kirana and the kind old woman back to the Royal Court and   Princess Candra Kirana told her father, King Kertamarta about the spell her sister had persuaded the wicked witch to place on her.  The king was very angry with Princess Dewi Galuh and fearing what punishment he might inflict upon her she fled into the forest and was never seen again.  Prince Raden Inu Kertapati and Princess Candra Kirana were married and lived a long and happy life together and the kind old woman stayed with them.

© 27/03/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 27, 2019 zteve t evans

Khasi Folktales: The Origin of Thunder and Lightning

The Khasi People

The Khasi people live in the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya with populations in the neighboring state of Assam and some regions of Bangladesh. They evolved their own unique mythology and folklore and created many wonderful folktales that attempt to explain different aspects of the natural world.  There are all sorts of stories featuring monkeys, tigers, lynxes and other wild animals.  The domestication of some animals is also dealt with telling how dogs, cats, goats and oxen came to live among humans and give explanations of cosmic creation and natural phenomena. The Khasi divinities, such as the twin goddesses Ka Ngot and Ka Iam, who gave their names to the rivers Ngot and Lam respectively, are found along with other divine beings.  All this and more can be found in Folktales of the Khasis by Mrs. K. U. Rafy (1920) and presented here is a retelling of the story What Makes the Lightning?

What Makes the Lightning?

The story begins in the young days of the world when animals socialized with people. They spoke their language and tried to copy human customs and manners.  Every thirteen moons the people held a great festival where there were many sports and events.  People competed against each other and demonstrated their abilities in many different activities and one of the most popular was the sword dance.  All the people from the hills and the forest would come and take part and it was a gay and happy time.   The animals loved this event and would watch the people competing, dancing and having fun and the younger beasts began to ask the elders for a festival of their own.  After considerable thought the elders agreed and said that the animals should appoint a day when their own festival should be held.

U Pyrthat’s Drum

With great enthusiasm the animals learnt all the skills and rules for the competitions and all the moves and steps for the dances.  When they were ready they set a date for the festival to begin, but no one knew how to let everyone know the event was taking place. Someone suggested that perhaps U Pyrthat, the thunder giant, would beat his drum to tell everyone the event was beginning.   U Pyrthat  agreed and began to beat his drum summoning all the animals to their great festival.  His drum could be heard in the farthest of hills and the most remote places of the forest and the animals flocked towards the sound excitedly and a soon a great multitude gathered around U Pyrthat and his drum.

The animals had gone to great trouble to prepare  grooming and preening themselves to look their very best.  Each one carried either a musical instrument or a weapon relevant to how they intended to participate in the festival events.  There was much merriment when the squirrel marched in banging on a small drum followed by a small bird called the Shakyllia playing a flute, who was followed by a porcupine clashing cymbals together. It was a very happy day and all the animals were jolly and laughing, sharing a jokes and having fun.  The mole looked up and saw the owl trying to dance but because her eyes were not used to daylight she kept bumping into objects.  The mole laughed so much his own eyes became narrowed and his vision unclear and that is how we find him today.

The Sword Dance of U Kui, the Lynx

When the fun and merriment reached its height U Kui, the lynx appeared carrying a most splendid silver sword which he had lavished a lot of money on.  He had bought it just for the festival because he wanted to show off his skills in the sword dance.  Calling everyone to attention he began his dance leaping and stepping with energy, grace and precision.  Everyone cheered and admired his elegance of movement and technique but his success went to his head and he began to see himself as better than the others.

U Pyrthat’s Sword Dance

U Pyrthat, the thunder giant, saw the performance of the lynx and was full of admiration for his dancing skills and was very impressed with the silver sword.  He had not brought a sword himself as he had brought the drum he used to summon everyone. Thinking that he should like to try a dance or two wielding such a fine sword he asked the lynx if he could borrow it as a favor. U Kui was reluctant to allow the thunder giant to borrow his silver sword not only because it was so fine and expensive but because he did not like the idea that he might be upstaged.   The crowd seeing his reluctance began to shout,

 “Shame! shame! shame!”  

and booed and hissed thinking that it was rude and ungracious of him to refuse being as the thunder giant had beat his drum to summon them all.  In the end the lynx was shamed into lending the the giant his sword and reluctantly the handed it to him.

Taking hold of the magnificent silver sword the thunder giant prepared himself to dance.  When he was ready he suddenly burst into life leaping high and whirling the flashing blade in circles all around him.  He danced so furiously and leapt high and the flashing blade dazzled everyone.  As he danced he beat on his drum so hard the earth shook and the animals fled in terror.

Thunder and Lightning

U Pyrthat was inspired by the silver sword and danced faster and faster, leaping higher and higher.  Carried away by his dancing and the wonderful blade he leaped right into the sky with the silver sword flashing all around him while he beat on his drum, the sound rumbling and crashing down to earth.  At times, the noise of the drum and the flashing of the sword are still heard and seen by people all around the world.  They called it thunder and lightning, but the Khasis people know that it is the drum of U Pyrthat, the thunder giant and the stolen sword of U Kui, the lynx, that the people hear and see.

U Kui’s Heartbreak

U Kui was heartbroken at the loss of his fine silver sword.  Folks say that afterwards he made his home near a great hill and would sit and look at the sky when U Pyrthat danced.  He kept piling stones upon the hill hoping one day to make it high enough to reach the sky where he hoped to to  reclaim his sword from the dancing thunder giant.

© 13/03/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 13th, 2019 zteve t evans