Ohokuninushi and the Surrender of Izumo - Daikoku and Ebisu -
Ohonamuchi, son of Sosanowo (founder of the Land of Izumo), grew up as a mirror image of his father's wild and wanton character. For Ohonamuchi (also called Ohokuninushi, tutelary deity of the Izumo Taisha Shrine in Shimane Prefecture) had a gentle, compassionate nature. He was also highly skilled in his management of the land, and his efforts to develop farmland together with Sukuna-Hikona (deity of the Kada-Awashima Shrine in Wakayama Prefecture) brought affluence and peace to the Land of Izumo.
It was a summer day in the year saaye, in the 93rd branch of the 25th suzu (a tree used to mark the passing of time). A branch of the orange tree planted in the courtyard of the Kagunomiya Palace suddenly started to wither. As the tree was used to gauge the health of the land, this surely bode some ill. The nobles were immediately summoned and a ritual conducted according to the Futomani Book of Divination. The divination produced the sign "shichiri", taken to mean that all was not well in the northwestern part of the land.
It was decided that a yokobe official would be sent to Izumo to appraise the situation. On his return to the court, the official reported thus:
"Ohonamuchi, Lord of the Yahegaki Palace in Izumo, is so consumed with haughty pride in the glory of his land that - as in the saying 'every tide has its ebb' - he has re-written the name of his palace as 'Tamagaki Uchimiya' (Inner Palace of the Jewelled Stockade) and rebuilt it in imitation of the great palace of Amateru."
Before this, Omohikane and his wife Shitateru (Amateru's sister Wakahime) had been looking after the Crown Prince Oshihomimi at their palace in Yasu (Shiga Prefecture). After his death, Omohikane, revered as the deity Achi, was buried in the Mound of Ina in Shinano (now the Achi Shrine in Ina County, Nagano Prefecture).
Meanwhile, a Grand Festival had been held to mark the succession of Takagi as the 7th Takamimusubi. The new palace of Imamiya was built near the River Yasu, and Takagi was appointed to succeed Omohikane as protector of the heir Oshihomimi at Taga. The new Takamimusubi summoned all the nobles to Imamiya, and told them of the report brought back by the yokobe. "Who should be sent", he asked, "as an envoy to rebuke Izumo?"
The assembled nobles all answered as one: "Send the Lord Hohi." This was Amano-Hohi, a child of Amateru and half-brother of Oshihomimi. So Hohi was sent to correct the situation. But once he had arrived in Izumo, he fell in with Ohonamuchi, beguiled by his personality and the richness of the land. Three years passed, but Hohi still hadn't sent any word. So next his son, O-ose-ii Mikumano, was sent after him. But he stayed true to his father and also failed to return.
Once again, the Takamimusubi convened an assembly of the nobles. After deliberation, they decided that Amewakahiko (now revered at the Amewakahiko Shrine in Shiga Prefecture), son of Amakunitama (deity of the Nangu Shrine in Gifu Prefecture) and grandson of Kanayamahiko, would be sent as the final envoy to Izumo. The Takamimusubi then gave Amewakahiko a kagoyumi bow and hahaya arrows (symbols of sovereign authority), and sent him on his way to bring Izumo to heel.
But this last envoy, too, broke faith with the court. Far from returning from Izumo, he actually wedded Ohonamuchi's daughter Takateru (deity of Takateru Shrine in Naka-Tsugaru County, Aomori Prefecture) and plotted to take power in the Central Land of Reed Plains. For eight years he tarried in Izumo and failed to return. Now, as the last resort, a nameless "pheasant" (clandestine agent) was sent to spy on his movements.
The pheasant concealed itself at the foot of a big cassia tree outside Amewakahiko's gate. And when it saw with its own eyes the brazenness of Amewakahiko's treachery, the pheasant quite forgot its proper purpose and inadvertently let out a great cry ("Hololo! Hololo!", like the cry of the turtledove).
One of Amewakahiko's spying women heard the cry and hurried in to report it. Then Amewakahiko came out, saying "You who have no name, you dare to rebuke me?!". And he shot the pheasant through the breast with one of the hahaya arrows he had been given on his departure from the court. The pheasant flew back and let out a pitiful cry. When the Takamimusubi saw the blood on the arrow, he sent back an arrow in return. The arrow hit Amewakahiko in the breast and struck him dead. This is the origin of the phrase "Beware the returning arrow" (or "Do as you would be done by").
When Amewakahiko's father, Amakunitama, heard the piteous weeping of the Princess Takateru, he quickly sent for the body to be collected and taken to his native Mino, where they put up a temporary mortuary house for him.
Since, as a traitor to the court, Amewakahiko could not be buried with honour in the normal way, he was given a quasi-funeral (kari-mogari, at the Moyama Mound in Gifu Prefecture) attended only by members of his family. They dressed up as birds to fulfil various roles in the funeral, which lasted until morning. One acted as a river goose in the role of kisari-mochi (a relative of the deceased who would turn the head of the deceased towards the mourners), another as a chicken in the role of yohakishi (offering up paper flowers), another as a sparrow in the role of ii (offering rice to the deceased), others as pigeons in the role of monomasa (coffin bearers), others as wrens in the role of sasaki miso (weeping women), another as a hawk in the role of yufumatsuri (offering cloth as the chief mourner), and finally others as crows in the role of tsuka (burying the body). After seeing Amewakahiko off to the other world in the guise of birds, his family members mourned for eight days and eight nights before the festivities finally ended.
By and by, Takateru's brother Takahikone (Suteshino Achisuki Takahikone, second son of Ohonamuchi; revered both at the Asuki Shrine in Shiga Prefecture and the Futarasan Shrine in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture), came to Amakunitama's palace to offer condolences on the sudden death of his brother-in-law and friend. It so happened that his noble appearance exactly resembled that of Amewakahiko. When the family saw Takahikone, they were convinced that Amewakahiko had been restored to life and was returning to them after his eight year absence. Beside themselves with joy, they cried "Our lord is alive! Our lord is still alive!", and clung to him in rapturous wonderment at this "eight-year miracle".
But Takahikone flew into a rage at this unexpected welcome. "To mistake me, who has come so far to mourn the death of a friend, for a corpse! That is such a vile error, it fills me with fury!". And with that, he drew the Aobakari sword that hung at his waist, cut the mortuary house down to the ground, and started to leave through the sanctified entrance.
Now Shitateru-Ogurahime, granddaughter of Kanayamahiko (who had first opened up the Nakasendo mountain pass in days gone by), tried to assuage Takahikone's anger by reciting a poem. It went:
"Long ago, when I would weave at Yasu for the Princess Wakahime, the beads I wore around my neck would swing from side to side in the valleys of my chest, as if spurred by the sound of the loom. As I see you now, the beating in my chest starts once again and those beads are again shaking in those two valleys. It is you, Achisuki Takahikone, who fills my heart."
When they heard these words, Amewakahiko's relatives at last came to their senses and realized that Achisuki Takahikone had, indeed, come all this way to mourn with them. He, too, replaced his sword, his anger now abated.
Takahikone himself now recited a poem in reply, with which he meant to show her the correct way to woo.
"My intention in coming to the country was merely to mourn for my friend. But there you were at the river's edge casting your net alone. If you seek love, you should use a go-between. Your approach is too one-sided."
This became known to later generations as Hina-buri (a country melody), a song of betrothal between men and women of different provenance and status (kamo ito). It is also echoed in the song of love delivered by Prince Hohodemi to Princess Toyotama at a later time:
Takamimusubi held a council of war to determine a way of punishing the haughty Ohonamuchi in Izumo once and for all. They called this "kashimadachi" - the subjugation (dachi) of the land (shima) of Ohonamuchi, Minister of the Right (ka).
First, they built a new suki shrine inside the court to pray to the deities of the earth. Then an assembly of the nobles was convened once more. After lengthy deliberation, they all agreed that Futsunushi (now revered as the deity of the Katori Grand Shrine, Chiba Prefecture) would be the best to lead an army against Izumo. At that point, the valiant Takemikazuchi (deity of the Kashima Grand Shrine, Ibaraki Prefecture) came forward and spoke out.
"What can Futsunushi do that I cannot also do?", he declared. The nobles, impressed by his show of bravery, commanded him together with Futsunushi to go and bring Izumo to heel. And so it was that, leading a huge army of mononobe soldiers, they set off together on the road to Izumo.
Arriving at the Kitsuki Palace (now the Izumo Grand Shrine), Futsunushi and Takemikazuchi thrust their great kabutsuchi swords into the ground in front of it and squatted down. In this fearsome pose, they called out in rebuke:
"We two have been sent to correct your arrogant attitude and mistaken ways. What is your intention? Will you bend to our will, or not?"
Ohonamuchi, taken aback by the sudden challenge, was unable to answer. Instead, he sent Inasehagi (now deity of Inasehagi Shrine, Shimane Prefecture) as an express messenger to ask his eldest son Kushihiko (the Kotoshironushi) what they should do. At the time, Kushihiko was out fishing at Cape Miho, now the site of the Miho Shrine (whose tutelary deities are the Kotoshironushi and his wife Mihotsuhime).
Kushihiko had been serving at the sovereign court in the post of Kotoshironushi. But realizing the danger posed by his father's stubborn haughtiness, had returned to Izumo in the hope of persuading him to step down. But Ohonamuchi had failed to see the risk of his impending downfall, and Kushihiko had no choice but to retreat to temporary confinement at Cape Miho.
Ohonamuchi, meanwhile, had only ever wished for the happiness of his people, and had boldly promoted the management of the land to that end. He had achieved spectacular success, and the cultural basis of his rule together, with his peerless ambition, had brought affluence and unparalleled glory to the land. But because of the lengthy isolation he himself had imposed, he was utterly aware that his actions were seen as a serious threat to the sovereign court.
Now, however, all was about to change. In accordance with Ohonamuchi's instructions, Inasehagi inquired of Kushihiko: "What is the will of the Lord Amateru?"
Kushihiko answered with a smile (emisu-gao, for which he later became known as the deity Ebisu):
"Though we may proclaim that our intentions are pure, we are like a great fish caught on a hook. How foolish it would be to cut the line! And the heavenly court, too, is like a great fish of joy for the people. There can only be one court, it cannot be cut in two."
Then Kushihiko pronounced his decision thus: "If my father leaves the land, I will also leave with him."
Hearing this report from his son, Ohonamuchi resigned himself to leaving Izumo. "But", he said, "there is still one other". And with that, his other son Takeminakata (deity of the Suwa Grand Shrine in Nagano Prefecture) appeared. Holding aloft a boulder that would surely take a thousand men to lift, he roared:
"Is it your plan to take our land by stealth and conspiracy? Come and fight with me, if you dare!".
As if waiting for this challenge, Takemikazuchi quickly snatched the boulder and threw it away in the air, as if were a mere reed shoot. Now Takeminakata became truly afraid, and fled. He ran and ran, still pursued by Takemikazuchi, until he came to the Sea of Shinano (Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture). "Suwa!" (Alas!), he cried as his pursuer closed in (thus providing the origin for the place name Suwa). Takeminakata now realized that his cause was lost, and bowed in abject submission to Takemikazuchi.
"Spare me, please", he begged, "and I will vow never to move from this place, nor ever defy the heavenly will again." Hearing that the plea came from his heart, Takemikazuchi gracefully pardoned him, and returned immediately to Izumo. There, he presented Takeminakata's oath and demanded that Ohonamuchi at last cede sovereignty over Izumo.
Ohonamuchi yielded total submission to Takemikazuchi and Futsunushi, answering them thus:
"My sons have departed, and so I will also. And in case, after I have gone, there should be any other who rises up in defiance, I present to you my Kusanagi halberd with which to smite them. With this shall you keep this land under your rule."
And so saying, he relinquished Izumo to them.
After this, Takemikazuchi and Futsunushi proceeded throughout the region, putting to death all those who opposed them and giving merciful pardons to those who bowed to their authority. And when they had completed their work successfully, they returned to the Imamiya Palace by the River Yasu and reported on their victorious campaign to Takagi, the Takamimusubi. And once Izumo had returned to peace, Takagi assumed the government of that land on behalf of the sovereign heir.
Now the sovereign issued a decree.
"Futsunushi, you have observed well the guidance of the heavenly and earthly deities, and have exalted our noble authority. And Takemikazuchi, you have shown great valour in your conquest of Izumo. But you have also shown the true compassion of a noble warrior in your merciful treatment and successful return of the army. You will forthwith bear the title of the Lord Kashima, Minister of the Right."
Then Ohonamuchi came up to the court with 180 of his nobles, once again vowing allegiance to the sovereign. Seeing the true sincerity behind his oath, the Takamimusubi saw that Ohonamuchi deserved a reprieve. It was therefore decreed that he would be given new land in Akaru, Asobe (now the Iwakisan Shrine in Naka-Tsugaru County, Aomori Prefecture), which he redeveloped with his 180 nobles. Together, they created better fields for rice cultivation and made that land rich again.
Ohonamuchi built the Akaru Asobe Umoto Palace, with an elevated bridge stretching for 1,000 spans (1 span = about 1.5 metres) erected on beams of fragrant-smelling freshly planed wood. Against the backdrop of the verdant Asobe peaks, this must have appeared like a magical palace hanging in the sky.
The newly-built residences of the 180 nobles who accompanied Ohonamuchi to Tsugaru looked, from afar, like a gigantic white shield of obeisance, woven together to surround the palace as if to protect their lord. Ohonamuchi, renamed Utsushikunitama (literally "removed spirit of the land") in reference to his removal from Izumo, died here and was lauded as the deity Tsugaru Umoto (Great Original Deity of Tsugaru).
Amateru thenceforth appointed Amano-Hohi to govern affairs at Ohonamuchi's former Kitsuki Palace in Izumo.
Now the Takamimusubi commanded Ohonamuchi's son Kushihiko, saying: "Kushihiko, the Mononushi. If you wed a woman from your own land, your status will fall. You should take my daughter Mihotsuhime, command the 80 myriad nobles and serve as protector of the heavenly grandchild Ninikine." Thereupon, Kushihiko was granted land at Yorogi in Awaumi (now the Yorogi Shrine in Takashima County, Shiga Prefecture), where he pioneered the cultivation of medicinal herbs. Kushihiko planted a herb garden here, growing thousands of plants and myriad trees (yoro-ki, origin of the place names Yorogi no Mori and Nishi-Yurugi in Takashima County). He crushed and tasted each herb, studied its medicinal effect, and gave them all new names.
For generations, people would come to this Yorogi Palace to be cured of illness. Even birds and animals received treatment here, and the foundations were laid for medicine as practised in ancient Japan.
Kushihiko's wife Mihotsu was blessed with a single child, a boy named Mihohiko. Known as Yorogimaro in his infancy, he was to become the third in the line of Ohomononushi.
Mihohiko was later betrothed to Ikutamayori, daughter of Suyetsumi (remembered at the Sue-Arata Shrine in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture). Altogether, they had 18 sons. He also wedded Shiratama, daughter of Koshi-Ajihase (thought to be revered at a shrine in Maruoka, Fukui Prefecture), and they had 18 daughters.
Mihohiko raised his 36 children with loving care, always mindful that they had been bestowed upon him by the heavens. In reward for his selfless devotion to the upbringing and protection of his children, it was decreed that he would be given the laudatory title of the Lord Komori ("Child-Protector"), under which name he became immortal.
At the end of the sixth month of every year, when the "semi" crickets began to sing, the Lord Komori would cleanse himself in the Semi stream (in Tadasu-no-Mori, now part of the Kamo Mioya Shrine in Kyoto) and pass through an archway made of straw as a symbolic act of purification. This act has passed into Japanese tradition as the ritual of "chi-no-wa", associated with a prayer for long life.
Song of the Sons and Daughters of the Third Mononushi
Song of the Gaining of Succession by the Lord Katsute
The legendary figure known as Ohokuninushi (Okuninushi) went under the real name of Ohonamuchi. His son Kushihiko is remembered by posterity as the deity Ebisu. Buddhism was brought to Japan from India, via China, some 1,000 years after the events described here. One of the "deities" in the Buddhist pantheon is Mahakara, or "The Great Black One". In Chinese, this was translated as "Da Hei", pronounced "Daikoku" in Japanese. This happens to be the same as "Daikoku", the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese version of "Oho-kuni" (Da Guo). This homophony caused the two deities to become confused at some time during the Muromachi period. Nevertheless, the character and historical reality of the "Daikoku" now remembered in legend (included in the "Shichifukujin" or Seven Gods of Good Fortune) is based on the native Japanese deity represented in this legend.
Actually, the Hotsuma Tsutae tells us that the name "Ohokuninushi" was originally given to Ohonamuchi's son Kushihiko by the 10th sovereign Ninikine (the "Heavenly Grandchild"). However, due to the similarity between the two characters, the name came to be applied to the father as well. So much so that, today, the father is known in legend as Ohokuninushi, Ohonamuchi or Kushikine, and the son as Kotoshironushi, Ebisu or Kushihiko.
- END -
(from the 10th aya of the Hotsuma-Tsutae, contemporary Japanese translation by Seiji Takabatake)
Copyright 2001 (c) Hotsumatsutae Japan All Rights Reserved.
This site is operated and maintained by the Japan Translation Center, Ltd.
The contents of this site may be freely reproduced or published, but may not be used for sale or any other directly commercial purpose.Anyone wishing to reproduce or publish the contents of this site should first contact firstname.lastname@example.org