Amateru, Princess Seoritsu, and the Twelve Princesses
The construction of a new palace to await the heavenly heir had been underway for some years in the southwestern foothills of Mount Harami (today's Mount Fuji).
Then at last, on the first day of the third month in the year sanato (the 126th branch of the 21st suzu in the calendar of the 4th sovereign Ubichini), as if to answer the prayers of all who had toiled so long, the heir Amateru returned from the Land of Hitakami (near Tagajo in today's Sendai City) and moved into the new palace.
What joyful scenes there were. What a bright and radiant time it was.
The heavenly heir had been raised with the loving affection of his parents Isanagi and Isanami at the Harami Palace nearby (now the Asama Shrine in Fujinomiya City), from his birth until reaching the age of 16. Then he had been sent to his maternal grandfather Toyoke at the Yamate Palace in Hitakami (now the Sendai Grand Shrine), where he studied the Way of Heaven until the age of 28. During that time, the people's affection towards him had continued to grow, and his return to the capital was awaited with intense anticipation.
On his return, Isanagi and Isanami commanded Yasokine (son of Toyoke) and the other nobles to commence deliberations on the prince's consorts.
Twelve princesses who were honest, kind-hearted, intelligent, and fair of appearance were chosen from among the daughters of the most powerful provincial rulers of the land. They were arranged in the four cardinal directions of east, west, south, and north to represent the twelve moons of the year, with the Sun Deity Amaterasu (Amateru) at their centre. The three princesses at each of the cardinal points were graded into the three ranks of suke, uchime, and oshimo.
The original reason why twelve consorts were chosen for Amateru, the first time this had been done, was that the 6th generation of heavenly rulers, Amateru's ancestors Omotaru and Kashikone, had failed to produce an heir. As a result, the government of the land had been temporarily disrupted and unrest had taken over. Thus, Isanagi and Isanami took this bold step to avoid a similar situation.
The twelve consorts were arranged at the four points of the compass, with the sovereign occupying the centre in his capacity as the sun. These twelve would then serve successive rulers while practising their skills at weaving.
The nobles at last concluded their deliberation and sent out a decree to the people.
First, the daughters of Isanagi's younger brother Kurakine were appointed to the northern point, the elder Masuhime Mochiko being named suke and the younger Komasuhime Hayako uchime. The lower position of oshimo was given to Ajiko, daughter of Kada. Next, Yasokine's daughter Omiyahime Michiko was appointed suke at the eastern point, with her sister Tanabatahime Kotahe as uchime and Sogahime, daughter of Tsukuba Hayama, as oshimo. The southern suke was to be Sakunadari Seoritsuhime Honoko, famed daughter of Sakurauchi, with her younger sister Wakahime Hanako as uchime and Ironohehime Asako, daughter of Kasuya, as oshimo. Finally, Kanasaki's daughter Haya-Akitsuhime Akiko (otherwise known as Shio no Yamo-Aiko) was made the western suke, Munakata's daughter Orihatahime Osako the western uchime, and her sister Toyohime Ayako the western oshimo.
Of course, the princesses were all beautiful and intelligent. But one of them in particular, by nature exceedingly honest and fair, instantly captured Amateru's heart. The normal practice was for the sovereign to greet his consort from the front of his palace. But in this one case, he came down the palace steps in person to see her more closely. The given name of this princess was Sakunadari Seoritsuhime Honoko. "Sakunadari" referred to a pure mountain ravine that flowed down through a cleft in the rocks, a name that was indeed apt in her case. Seoritsu was now accorded the titular name of Amasagaru Hini Mukatsuhime ("Princess Who Faces the Descending Sun"), in reference to her dramatic first meeting with Amateru. Mukatsuhime is the name by which she is better known to posterity, in memory of that first meeting.
At length, Amateru found the courage to stay true to his convictions. Overcoming a number of obstacles, he resolved that Seoritsu would reside with him in his inner sanctuary (uchimiya), and issued a decree to this effect.
With this started the system of consort-in-residence.
To join Amateru in his palace, Seoritsu had to vacate her position as suke at the southern point. Her place there was temporarily taken by Urifuhime Nagako, daughter of Kanayamahiko. He was an influential noble who had opened up the old Nakasendo road over the mountains to the west. His daughter's name remains in the word "uruu" (as in "uruuzuki", intercalary month, or "uruudoshi", leap year), signifying a temporary or provisional condition.
As the days and months passed, the reign of the "Sun Deity" Amateru continued in peace and harmony. The light of the sovereign's dignity shone down on every corner of the land, and the people's lives, illuminated by his light, became ever more prosperous and peace loving.
On one of these days of contentment, an express messenger rushed to Amateru from the Miyazu Palace (now the Kono Shrine in Tango) bearing an urgent message from Lord Toyoke. Amateru immediately set off for Manaigahara in Tango (now the Hinumanai Shrine), eager to see his grandfather and former tutor again. Together, they spoke all through the night. Toyoke expressed his profound respect and sincere appreciation for Amateru's peerless rule of the land. Then he announced that he would soon depart from this life.
"Long ago", he said, "I taught the young Wakahito all I knew about the Way of Heaven. But I have been waiting for you here until this, my final moment, to pass on to you the innermost secret of the Way.
"Now listen well, all you nobles. Before he breathed his last, the deity Kunitokotachi issued his final decree: 'The sovereign shall be the father of many generations'. So shall it be."
And with that, he ordered the entrance to the cave to be sealed, and confined himself inside it.
Amateru built a tomb of rocks, in which Toyoke was buried with all ceremony. Later, the Asahimiya Shrine was built on top of it, and Toyoke was given the posthumous name of "Asahikami". This was meant to laud the rising sun (Asahi) appearing high over the sea off the coast of Hitakami, Toyoke's home province.
After the 48 days and nights of official mourning, Amateru started to prepare for his return. But as he did, the local people came clinging to his palanquin, begging him with tearful faces not to leave. He took pity on their honest souls, and decided to remain awhile in personal governance of this land.
Amateru's chief consort Seoritsu, hearing this news by express messenger, issued a decree on his behalf to Mochiko (suke consort at the northern point), Hayako (uchime), and Ajiko (oshimo). Namely, after observing the rites of mourning for Lord Toyoke in Hitakami, they were to proceed quickly to Manai to serve Amateru there. Seoritsu made this decision in awareness of the sovereign's considerable inconvenience and hardship during his protracted sojourn away from home.
Eventually, life in the Land of Sahoko Chitaru (today's San-in region), Toyoke's erstwhile administrative seat, returned to normal. After appointing successors to his rule, Amateru started his return journey on the 15th day of the third month, accompanied by Sosanowo and Amanomichine. One month later, the retinue arrived at the Harami Palace.
Amateru had already commanded Hinohayahiko (otherwise known as Takemikazuchi, deity of the Kashima Grand Shrine) to draw up picture maps of the entire country.
Hinohayahiko toured every corner of the land of Yamato and drew maps of every region, which he eventually presented to the sovereign. Amateru used them to make a decision on where to build his new capital. He decided that the new capital would be at Isawa (now the Isomiya Shrine in Isobe, Shiki-gun, Mie Prefecture), and commanded Omohikane (Minister of the Right and husband of Amateru's sister Hiruko) to oversee the construction.
Soon after the move to the new palace, Seoritsu erected an ubuya (temporary structure designed for childbirth) by the edge of the Oshihoi spring on nearby Mount Fujioka. The location of this spring is now remembered in the Shimomii or Oshihoi Shrine, within the precincts of the Ise Outer Shrine. The child born there was named Oshihomimi in reference to the edge ("mimi") of this Oshihoi spring. His imina or familiar name was Oshihito. The news of the birth went out across the land, whereupon the people assembled nearby to celebrate the glad tidings. Celebratory rice cakes were distributed to them to convey the sovereign's felicitations, and the people called out "Yorotoshi! Yorotoshi!" ("Long live the prince!") to welcome the new heir.
There is a saying that "Every tide has its ebb". But who, presented with this happy picture of a land at peace, with perfect harmony between sovereign, ministers, and people, could have foreseen the dark clouds that would soon be rumbling overhead?
Amateru's younger brother Hanakine (Sosanowo) had somehow infiltrated the quarters of the sovereign's northern consorts. He had come to frequent the Oho-uchimiya (Great Inner Sanctuary), home to the northern suke Mochiko and her sister Hayako. Soon, it transpired that he was having illicit relations with both of them.
Seoritsu had intuitively known of the relationship between Sosanowo and the sisters. But she had long kept the knowledge locked inside her heart, hoping thus to protect Amateru's position and feelings.
But one day, she called the sisters into her inner sanctuary and relieved them of their positions at the northern point. They were to be given a period of repose to allow the heat of their passions to cool. To succeed them she appointed Munakata's daughter Toyohime, the original oshimo at the western point.
Mochiko and Hayako wept and lamented violently on their return to the Great Inner Sanctuary. Sosanowo, himself enraged with indignation and sympathy for the sisters, could not hold back his anger at Seoritsu. He took up his sword and, his countenance white with rage, was about to race out in search of vengeance. But it was Hayako who held him back.
Standing before the impetuous youth, she said firmly but quietly: "If manly deeds be your goal, then seize the reins of power!"
Her words went beyond mere hatred for Seoritsu. They were the machinations of a woman possessed by the twin ogres of jealousy and revenge, bent now on doing away not only with Seoritsu but also with the sovereign himself. In a word, they planted the seeds of a plan to assassinate the heavenly sovereign Amateru.
At that moment, the Princess Hanako happened to pass by, unaware of the frantic exchange that had just taken place. The three hurriedly regained their composure and managed to pretend that all was well. But Hanako immediately sensed the tension in the air and knew that something was amiss.
Hanako also pretended all was well and went her way. But she knew the matter was too serious to simply dismiss. What's more, time was pressing, and she soon reported the encounter to her sister Seoritsu. The wise and caring Seoritsu thought long and hard how she could resolve this difficult situation for the good. She decided to keep the matter to herself and wait for the right moment to come.
This it duly did, when Amateru was attending the earthly Takamagahara in Hitakami (near Tagajo in modern-day Sendai). Now Seoritsu again called Mochiko and Hayako, and spoke to them with care.
"You must already know that your relationship with the sovereign has cooled and you have nowhere left to go. Now listen to me carefully and leave everything to me. You are to proceed to Usa (the Usa Shrine in Usa, Oita Prefecture) where you will wait until the time has come. I have already explained the situation to the old lord Akatsuchi in Tsukushi, and he will look after you. And as you stay there, reflect seriously on yourselves and admit your wrongdoings. If you do so, I can surely help restore you to your former positions. Will you have the grace to follow my bidding?
"As for your children, Mochiko's son Tanakine will be entrusted to my care, as it is the ancient custom for a boy to be near his father. You need have no fear, for he will have a splendid education with me. Hayako's three daughters Takeko, Takiko, and Tanako will stay with their mother, as that is also the custom. And so, I beseech you, go and be patient."
The sisters, initially resistant to Seoritsu's proposal, at length resigned themselves in awareness of their wrongdoing, and reluctantly went their way to Usa.
At Usa, Akatsuchi had rebuilt his palace in preparation for the sisters and the children, to reflect their change of heart. All preparations had been made to afford them every convenience. But despite the warm welcome he extended them, their new abode was a pale reflection of their former glory at court. The quiet, rural solitude of Usa was no match for the luxury in which they had been so pampered. So Mochiko and Hayako abandoned their upbringing of the three girls, and set off for Hikawa in the Land of Izumo. There, they became known as "Sasurahime" - the Banished Princesses.
Originally, their father Kurakine had been a powerful noble who had ruled the Lands of Ne (modern-day Hokuriku) and Sahoko-Chitaru (San-in). What had hurt them most in the present conflict was Seoritsu's sudden promotion to nakamiya, the central position among the consorts. Then there was the unforgivable humiliation when Mochiko's son Tanahito (Amateru's first-born) was overlooked in favour of Seoritsu's son Oshihito as heir to the throne. Even his name had been changed to Tanakine, losing the suffix -hito that denoted the heir. That honour had been unilaterally bestowed on Oshihito. Mochiko's line, in a word, had been dispossessed of its rightful inheritance.
"Our family line is higher than Seoritsu's", she complained. "Our father Kurakine was the younger brother of the great Isanagi. Her father is merely the Minister of the Mirror (Kagami-no-Omi), and was originally no more than a provincial governor. I will not be given instructions by someone of such lowly birth. It matters not how much the sovereign loves her, or whether we are rejected. The rule of bloodlines does not allow this.
"Once we reach Hikawa in Izumo, our old territory, we will find many powerful supporters. In particular, Shirahito and Kokumi owe us a debt for saving their lives. They will surely rally their clans and help us gain vengeance on Mukatsu. One devil knows another. The clans will follow us to hell if they must. We have nothing to fear."
Things might have stopped at this - but for Sosanowo. With his innate disposition to roughness and violence, his perverse obsession with his deceased mother had been the original cause of his illicit relationship with Mochiko and Hayako. He had been visited by other misfortunes in the past that were equally deserving of commiseration.
One day, while Amateru was temporarily holding the reins of government in the Miyazu Palace, Sosanowo had visited the Asahi Shrine at Manaigahara (built in reverence for his grandfather Toyoke) on behalf of the sovereign, when his eye fell on a beautiful maiden who was also worshipping there. When he asked his servants who she was, they replied "She is Princess Hayasuu, daughter of the Lord Akatsuchi".
Sosanowo immediately sent a messenger to the Akatsuchi Palace in Tsukushi to request her hand in marriage, following accepted convention. But a gathering of nobles decided that, in view of his constant delinquency and wild behaviour, his status was still provisional, under the supervision of Hayatamanowo and Kotosakanowo (Ministers of Kumano). He could therefore not be permitted to have his own palace, and the marriage proposal was rejected. Bitterly disappointed and estranged, this was when he started to go to Mochiko and Hayako in search of their sympathy.
And now these two, the only ones who could understand him, were banished as a result of his own misdeeds, and Sosanowo found himself alone. His acts of violence merely increased in scale. He destroyed the sacred rice fields being prepared for the Nihiname Festival of New Fruits, the most important of all annual rituals, by double-planting the seedlings. He let horses run wild through the rice fields, broke down the field ridges and ruined the harvest. He even scattered excrement at the door of the hall where the sovereign's ritual garments for the Nihiname Festival were being woven.
When the doors of the hall were closed to protect the weaving women from fear, Sosanowo lost his temper and broke in through the roof, hurling a piebald horse through the hole. As fate would have it, the Princess Hanako, weaving ritual garments inside the hall at the time, jumped up in surprise, impaled herself on the shuttle of the weaving loom, and died.
"Hanako is dead", wailed the princesses in their grief. Hearing this, Amateru hurried to the scene. When he saw what had happened, he raised his voice in angry rebuke at his brother.
"You are an infidel and a traitor whose ambition was to seize power", he fumed. "Remember the words of the Way of Heaven and be ashamed!"
Now Amateru recited these words.
Sosanowo's decisive deed in causing the death of Hanako was the final straw. The nobles were summoned to court to decide what should now be his fate. Their verdict was more severe than any they had ever handed down. Sentences in those days were measured in marks of severity, in accordance with the nature of the crime. Normally, 360 marks were enough to warrant the death sentence. But Sosanowo's crime was deemed worthy of 1,000 marks, or three times the normal death sentence. In other words, he was condemned to the mikidagare or "three-fold death" in which the victim would be subjected to sufficient rigour to die three times. The execution of the sentence was started. First his hair was pulled out, and his nails were in the process of being extracted. Then, suddenly, Seoritsu's messenger arrived with an urgent message.
"Hanako's soul", it started, "was saved from the agonies of death through prayer to the Ukemono deity (the Food Goddess), and she proceeded to the heavenly realm without delay. Sosanowo has already suffered the 400 marks for the killing of Hanako. His violent character was given to him at birth. Should we not now give him a compassionate stay of execution and release him?"
What a noble and humane sentiment. Overcoming her grief at the loss of her brave and loyal sister, Seoritsu earnestly sought the release of a criminal whom it was all too easy to despise. This nobility of spirit was the very essence of Seoritsu's graceful nature, for which the young Amateru had descended the steps of his palace in person to take her hand.
The story of the princesses continues further, but mention of the unfortunate Hanako stops abruptly here.
The Wakasakura Shrine, a small shrine in Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture, lies hidden on a low-lying hill in a residential area just off a trunk highway. I am convinced that this is the very "Tamuke-no-Mori" shrine built by Hanako's father Sakurauchi, "Minister of the Mirror" (Minister of the Left), inside his own residence in grieving memory of his beloved daughter. Incidentally, a song that commemorates Sakurauchi contains the following reference:
Assuming "Tani" to be a place name, this would provide the proof for my assertion above. For the Wakasakura Shrine today is in a district called Tani-machi. Meanwhile, the Sakunado Shrine that commemorates Hanako's sister Seoritsu used to be called the Sakuratani Shrine. This too continues the connection between Sakura and Tani. The name of Sakurai City, moreover, derives from the Sakurai well, said to be the oldest in Japan, that is also found inside the grounds of the Wakasakura shrine.
(from the 6th aya of the Hotsuma-Tsutae, contemporary Japanese translation by Seiji Takabatake)
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