Tales of Old Japan
THE Empress of Japan, wife of the fourteenth Mikado was named Jingu, or God-like Exploit. She was a wise and discreet lady and assisted her husband to govern his dominions. When the Mikado marched his army against the rebels, the Empress went with him and lived in the camp. One night, as she lay asleep in her tent, she dreamed that a heavenly being appeared to her and told her of a wonderful land in the West, full of gold, silver, jewels, silks, and precious stones. The heavenly messenger told her if she would invade this country she would succeed, and all its spoil would be hers, for herself and Japan.
"Conquer Corea" said the radiant being, as she floated away on a purple cloud.
In the morning the Empress told her husband of her dream, and advised him to set out to invade the rich land. But he paid no attention to her. When she insisted, in order to satisfy her, he climbed up a high mountain, and looking far away toward the setting sun, saw no land thither, not even mountain peaks. So, believing that there was no country in that direction he descended, and refused to set out on the expedition. Shortly after, in a battle with the rebels the Mikado was shot dead with an arrow.
The generals and captains of the host then declared their loyalty to the Empress as the sole ruler of Japan. She, now having the power, resolved to carry out her darling plan of invading Corea. She called upon all the spirits of the mountains, rivers, and plains to give her their advice and help. Then the fairy of the mountains obeyed and gave her timber and iron for her ships; the fairy of the fields presented rice and grain for provisions; the fairy of the grasses gave her hemp for cordage. The wind-god promised to open his bag and let out his breezes to fill her sails toward Corea. All appeared except Isora, the spirit of the seashore. Again she called for him and sat up waiting all night with torches burning, invoking him to appear.
Now, Isora was a lazy fellow, always slovenly and ill-dressed, and when at last he did come, instead of appearing in state in splendid robes, he rose right out of the sea-bottom, covered with mud and slime, with shells sticking all over him and seaweed clinging to his hair. He gruffly asked what the Empress wanted.
"Go down to the Under-World and beg his majesty, the Dragon King, to give me the two Tide jewels," she replied.
Now, among the treasures in the palace of the Dragon King of the World under the Sea were two Jewels having wondrous power over the ebbing and the flowing tides. They were about as large as apples, but shaped like apricots, with three rings cut near the top. They seemed to be of crystal, and glistened and shot out dazzling rays like fire. Indeed, they appeared to seethe and glow like the eye of a dragon, or the white-hot steel of the sword-forger. One was called the Jewel of the Flood-Tide, and the other the Jewel of the Ebb-Tide. Whoever owned them had the power to make the tides instantly rise or fall at his word, to make, the dry land appear, or the sea overwhelm it, in the fillip of a finger.
Isora dived with a dreadful splash, down, down to the Under-world, and straightway presented himself before the Dragon King. In the name of the Empress, he begged for the two tide jewels. The Dragon King granted his request. Producing the flaming globes from his casket, he placed them on a huge shell and handed them to Isora, who brought the Jewels to Jingu. She at once placed them in her girdle.
The Empress now prepared her fleet for the Corean invasion. Three thousand barges were built and launched. This mighty fleet sailed for Corea in the tenth month. The hills of Japan soon began to sink below the horizon, but no sooner were they out of sight of land than a great storm arose. The ships tossed about, and began to butt each other like bulls, and it seemed as though the fleet would be driven back; when lo! the Dragon King sent shoals of huge sea-monsters and immense fishes that bore up the ships and pushed their sterns forward with their great snouts. The dragon-fishes, taking the ship's cables in their mouths towed them forward, until the storm ceased and the ocean was calm. Then they plunged downward into the sea and disappeared.
The mountains of Corea now rose into view. But the army was not to be suffered to land unmolested. Corean spies had informed their king, so that he had made ready. Along the shore were gathered the entire Corean army. Their triangular fringed banners, inscribed with dragons, flapped in the breeze. As soon as their sentinels caught sight of the Japanese fleet, the signal was given, and the Corean line of war galleys moved gaily out to attack the Japanese.
The Empress posted her archers in the bows of her ships and waited for the enemy to approach. When they were within a few hundred sword-lengths, she took from her girdle the Jewel of the Ebbing Tide and cast the flashing gem into the sea. It blazed in the air for a moment, but no sooner did it touch the water, than instantly the ocean receded from under the Corean vessels, and left them stranded on dry land. The Coreans, thinking it was a tidal wave, and that the Japanese ships were likewise helpless in the undertow, leaped out of their galleys and rushed over the sand, and on to the attack. With shouting and drawn swords their aspect was terrible. When within range of the arrows, the Japanese bowmen opened volleys of double-headed, or triple-pronged arrows on the Coreans, and killed hundreds.
But on they rushed, until near the Japanese ships, when the Empress taking out the Flood-Tide Jewel, cast it in the sea. In the snap of a finger, the ocean rolled up into a wave many tens of feet high and engulfed the Corean army, drowning them almost to a man. Only a few were left out of the ten thousand. The warriors in their iron armor sank like lead in the boiling waves. The Japanese army landed safely, and easily conquered the country. The king of Corea surrendered and gave his bales of silk, jewels, mirrors, books, pictures, robes, tiger skins, and treasures of gold and silver to the Empress. The booty was loaded on eighty ships, and the Japanese army returned in triumph to their native country.
But the Tide-Jewels had, of course, sunk into the sea when the Empress threw them there. Isora seized them at once and returned them to his master.
Soon after her arrival at home, a son was born to the Empress Jingu, whom she named Ojin. He was one of the fairest children ever born of an imperial mother, and was very wise and wonderful even when an infant. As he grew up, he was full of the Spirit of Unconquerable Japan.
The Prime Minister was a very venerable old man, who was said to be three hundred and sixty years old. He had been the counselor of five Mikados. He was very tall, and as straight as an arrow, when other old men were bent like a bow. He served as a general in war and a civil officer in peace. For this reason he always kept on a suit of armor under his long satin and damask court robes. He wore the bear-skin shoes and the tiger-skin scabbard which were the general's badge of rank, and also the high cap and long fringed strap hanging from the belt, which marked the court noble. He had moustaches, and a long beard fell over his breast like a foaming waterfall, as white as the snows on the branches of the pine trees of Ibuki Mountain.
The Empress wished the little Ojin to live long, be wise and powerful, become a mighty warrior, be invulnerable in battle, and to have control over the tides and the ocean as his mother once had. To do this it was necessary to get back the Tide-Jewels.
So the Prime Minister took Ojin on his shoulders, mounted the imperial war-barge, whose sails were of gold-embroidered silk, and bade his rowers put out to sea. Then standing upright on the deck, he called on the Dragon King come up out of the deep and give back the Jewels.
At first there was no sign from the waves. The green sea lay glassy in the sunlight, and the water laughed and curled above the sides of the boat. Still the Prime Minister listened intently and waited reverently. He was not long in suspense. Looking down far under the sparkling waves, he saw the head and fiery eyes of a dragon mounting upward. Instinctively he clutched his robe with his right hand, and held Ojin tightly on his shoulder, for this time it was not Isora, but the terrible Dragon King himself who was coming.
What a great honor! The sea-king's servant, Isora, had appeared to the Empress Jingu, but the Dragon King deigned to come in person to her son!
The waters opened; the waves rolled up, curled, rolled into wreaths and hooks and drops of foam, which flecked the dark green curves with silvery bells. First appeared a living dragon with fire-darting eyes, long flickering moustaches, glittering scales of green all ruffled, with terrible spines erect, and out of the joints of the fore-paws were curling jets of red fire. This living creature was the helmet of the Sea King. Next appeared the face of awful majesty and stern mien, as if with reluctant condescension, and then the jewel robes of the monarch. Then rose into view a huge shell, in which, on a bed of rare gems from the deep sea floor, glistened, blazed and flashed the two Jewels of the Tides.
The Dragon King spoke, saying: "Quick, take this casket. I deign not to remain long in this upper world of mortals. With these I endow the imperial prince of the Heavenly line of the Mikados of the Divine Country. He shall he invulnerable in battle. He shall have long life. To him I give power over sea and land. Of this, my promise, let these Tide-Jewels be the token."
Hardly were the words uttered when the Dragon King disappeared with a tremendous splash. The Prime Minister standing erect but breathless amid the crowd of rowers who, crouching at the boat's bottom had not dared so much as to lift up their noses, waited a moment, and then gave the command to turn the prow to the shore.
It came about just as the sea-king had said. Ojin grew up and became a great warrior, invincible in battle and powerful in peace. He lived to be one hundred and eleven years old, and was one of the most famous princes who ever sat upon the throne beneath the sunlit banner of Japan.
The text came from:
Fairy Tales of Old Japan. London: George G. Harrap & Co., 1911.