18.THE STORY OF PRINCE YAMATO TAKE
The Japanese Empire has three treasures which have been considered sacred, and guarded with care for many years. These are the the Mirror of Yata, the Jewel of Yasakami, and the Sword of Murakumo.
Of these three treasures of the Empire, the sword of Murakumo, afterwards known as the grass-cutting sword, is considered the most precious, for it is the symbol of strength to this nation of warriors and the talisman of invincibility for the Emperor, while he holds it sacred in the shrine of his ancestors.
Nearly two thousand years ago this sword was kept at the shrines of Ite, the temples dedicated to the worship of Amaterasu, the great and beautiful Sun Goddess from whom the Japanese Emperors are said to be descended.
There is a story of knightly adventure and daring which explains why the name of the sword was changed from that of Murakumo to Kasanagi, which means grass clearing.
Once, many, many years ago, there was born a son to the Emperor Keiko, the twelfth in descent from the great Jimmu, the founder of the Japanese dynasty. This Prince was the second son of the Emperor Keiko, and he was named Yamato. From his childhood he proved himself to be of remarkable strength, wisdom and courage, and his father noticed with pride that he gave promise of great things, and he loved him even more than he did his elder son.
Now when Prince Yamato had grown to manhood the country was much troubled by a band of outlaws whose chiefs were two brothers, Kumaso and Takeru. These rebels seemed to delight in rebelling against the King, in breaking the laws and defying all authority.
At last King Keiko ordered his younger son Prince Yamato to defeat the bandits and, if possible, to rid the land of their evil lives. Prince Yamato was only sixteen years of age, he had just reached adulthood according to the law, yet though he was so young he had the fearless spirit of a warrior and did not know what fear was. Even then there was no man who could rival him for courage and bold deeds, and he received his father’s command with great joy.
He at once made ready to start, and there was great excitement in the Palace as he and his followers gathered together and prepared for the mission. Before he left his father’s Court he went to pray at the shrine of Ise and to say goodbye to his aunt the Princess Yamato, for his heart was somewhat heavy at the thought of the dangers he had to face, and he felt that he needed the protection of his ancestor, Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. The Princess his aunt came out to welcome him, and congratulated him on being trusted with so great a mission by his father the King. She then gave him one of her gorgeous robes as a keepsake to go with him and to bring him good luck, saying that it would surely be of service to him on this adventure. She then wished him all success in his undertaking.
The young Prince bowed low before his aunt, and received her gracious gift with much pleasure and many respectful bows.
“I will now set out,” said the Prince, and returning to the Palace he put himself at the head of his troops. Thus cheered by his aunt’s blessing, he felt ready for everything that might happen, and marching through the land he went down to the Southern Island of Kiushiu, the home of the bandits.
Before many days had passed he reached the Southern Island, and then slowly but surely made his way to the head-quarters of the chiefs Kumaso and Takeru. He then met with great difficulties, for he found the country exceedingly wild and rough. The mountains were high and steep, the valleys dark and deep, and huge trees and boulders blocked the road and stopped the progress of his army. It was all but impossible to go on.
Though the Prince was just a youth he had the wisdom of years, and, seeing that it was vain to try and lead his men further, he said to himself,”To attempt to fight a battle in this impassable country unknown to my men only makes my task harder. We cannot clear the roads and fight as well. It is wiser for me to use a plan and come upon my enemies unawares. In that way I may be able to kill them without much trouble.”
So he told his army to halt by the way. His wife, the Princess Ototachibana, had accompanied him, and he told her to bring him the robe his aunt the priestess of Ise had given him, and to help him dress himself as a woman. With her help he put on the robe, and let his hair down till it flowed over his shoulders. Ototachibana then brought him her comb, which he put in his black hair, and then put on strings of strange jewels. When he had finished, Ototachibana brought him her mirror. He smiled as he gazed at himself—the disguise was so perfect.
He had changed so much he hardly knew himself. All traces of the warrior had disappeared, and in the mirror only a beautiful lady looked back at him.
Thus completely disguised, he set out for the enemy’s camp alone. In the folds of his silk gown, next his strong heart, was hidden a sharp dagger.
The two chiefs Kumaso and Takeru were sitting in their tent, resting in the cool of the evening, when the Prince approached. They were talking of the news which had recently been carried to them, that the King’s son had entered their country with a large army determined to destroy their band. They had both heard of the young warrior’s fame, and for the first time in their wicked lives they felt afraid. In a pause in their talk they happened to look up, and saw through the door of the tent a beautiful woman robed in splendid garments coming towards them. Like a spirit of loveliness she appeared in the soft twilight. Little did they dream that it was their enemy whose coming they so dreaded who now stood before them in this disguise.
“What a beautiful woman! Where has she come from?” said the astonished Kumaso, forgetting war and council and everything as he looked at the gentle lady.
He called to the disguised Prince and asked him to sit down and serve them with wine. Yamato Take felt his heart swell with glee for he now knew that his plan would succeed. However, he acted cleverly, and putting on a sweet air of shyness he approached the rebel chief with slow steps and eyes glancing like a frightened deer. Charmed by the girl’s loveliness Kumaso drank cup after cup of wine for the pleasure of seeing her pour it out for him, till at last he was quite overcome with the quantity he had drunk.
This was the moment for which the brave Prince had been waiting. Flinging down the wine jar, he seized the drunken and astonished Kumaso and quickly stabbed him to death with the dagger which he had secretly carried hidden in his pocket.
Takeru, the bandit’s brother, was terror-struck as soon as he saw what was happening and tried to escape, but Prince Yamato was too quick for him. Before he could reach the tent door the Prince was at his heel, a dagger flashed before his eyes and he lay stabbed on the ground, dying but not yet dead.
“Wait one moment!” gasped the bandit painfully, and he seized the Prince’s hand.
Yamato relaxed his hold somewhat and said,”Why should I pause, you villain?”
The bandit raised himself fearfully and said,”Tell me where you come from, and whom I have the honor of addressing? Before I believed that my dead brother and I were the strongest men in the land, and that there was no one who could overcome us. Alone you have come into our stronghold, alone you have attacked and killed us! Surely you are more than mortal?”
Then the young Prince answered with a proud smile,”I am the son of the King and my name is Yamato, and I have been sent by my father as the avenger of evil to bring death to all rebels! No longer shall robbery and murder hold my people in terror!” and he held the dagger dripping red above the rebel’s head.
“Ah,” gasped the dying man with a great effort, “I have often heard of you. You are indeed a strong man to have so easily overcome us. Allow me to give you a new name. From this time on you shall be known as Yamato Take. You are the bravest man in Yamato.”
And with these noble words, Takeru fell back and died.
The Prince having successfully put an end to his father’s enemies in the world, was prepared to return to the capital. On the way back he passed through the province of Idum. Here he met with another bandit named Idzumo Takeru who he knew had done much harm in the land. He again used cunning, and pretended friendship with the rebel under a different name. Having done this he made a sword of wood and jammed it tightly in the shaft of his own strong sword. This he purposedly buckled to his side and wore on every occasion when he expected to meet the third robber Takeru.
He now invited Takeru to the bank of the River Hinokawa, and persuaded him to try a swim with him in the cool refreshing waters of the river.
As it was a hot summer’s day, the rebel was happy to take a plunge in the river, while his enemy was still swimming down the stream the Prince turned back and landed with all possible haste. Unseen, he managed to change swords, putting his wooden one in place of the steel sword of Takeru.
Knowing nothing of this, the bandit came up to the bank shortly. As soon as he had landed and put on his clothes, the Prince came forward and asked him to cross swords with him to prove his skill, saying,”Let us see who is the better swordsman!”
The robber agreed with delight, feeling certain of victory, for he was famous as a swordsman in his province and he did not know who his opponent was. He seized quickly what he thought was his sword and stood on guard to defend himself. Unfortunately for the rebel the sword was the wooden one of the young Prince and in vain Takeru tried to draw it—it was jammed fast, not all his strength could move it. Even if his efforts had been successful the sword would have been of no use to him for it was of wood. Yamato Take saw that his enemy was in his power, and swinging high the sword he had taken from Takeru he brought it down with great might and cut off the robber’s head.
In this way, sometimes by using his wisdom and sometimes by using his strength, and at other times by resorting to craftiness, he defeated all the King’s enemies one by one, and brought peace to the land and the people.
When he returned to the capital the King praised him for his brave deeds, and held a feast in the Palace in honor of his safe coming home and presented him with many rare gifts. From this time forth the King loved him more than ever and would not let Yamato Take go from his side, for he said that his son was now as precious to him as one of his arms.
But the Prince was not allowed to live an idle life for long. When he was about thirty years old, news was brought that the Ainu race, the aborigines of the islands of Japan, who had been conquered and pushed northwards by the Japanese, had rebelled in the Eastern provinces, and leaving the area which had been given to them were causing great trouble in the land. The King decided that it was necessary to send an army to do battle with them and bring them to reason. But who was to lead the men?
Prince Yamato Take at once offered to go and bring the rebels to obedience. As the King loved the Prince dearly, and could not bear to have him go out of his sight even for one day, he was of course very reluctant to send him on his dangerous mission. But in the whole army there was no warrior so strong or so brave as the Prince his son, so that His Majesty, unable to do otherwise, reluctantly accepted Yamato’s wish.
When the time came for the Prince to start, the King gave him a spear called the Eight-Arms-Length-Spear of the Holly Tree, and ordered him to set out to defeat the Eastern Barbarians as the Ainu were then called.
The Prince respectfully received the King’s spear, and leaving the capital, marched with his army to the East. On his way he visited first of all the temples of Ise for worship, and his aunt the Princess of Yamato and High Priestess came out to greet him. It was she who had given him her robe which had proved such a aid to him before in helping him to overcome and kill the bandits of the West.
He told her everything that had happened to him, and of the great part her keepsake had played in the success of his previous undertaking, and thanked her very heartily. When she heard that he was starting out once again to do battle with his father’s enemies, she went into the temple, and reappeared carrying a sword and a beautiful bag which she had made herself, and which was full of flints, which in those times people used instead of matches for making fire. These she presented to him as a parting gift.
The sword was the sword of Murakumo, one of the three sacred treasures of Japan. She told him to use it in the hour of his greatest need.
Yamato Take now said farewell to his aunt, and once more placing himself at the head of his men he marched to the East through the province of Owari, and then he reached the province of Suruga. Here the governor welcomed the Prince and entertained him royally with many feasts. When these were over, the governor told his guest that his country was famous for its fine deer, and proposed a deer hunt for the Prince’s amusement. The Prince was completely deceived by the friendliness of his host, which was all false, and gladly agreed to join in the hunt.
The governor then led the Prince to a wild and large plain where the grass grew high. Not knowing that the governor had laid a trap for him, the Prince began to ride hard and hunt down the deer, when all of a sudden to his amazement he saw flames and smoke bursting out from the bush in front of him. Realizing his danger he tried to retreat, but no sooner did he turn his horse in the opposite direction than he saw that even there the prairie was on fire. At the same time the grass on his left and right burst into flames, and these began to spread swiftly towards him on all sides. He looked round for a chance of escape. There was none. He was surrounded by fire.
“This deer hunt was then only a cunning trick of the enemy!” said the Prince, looking round at the flames and the smoke that crackled and rolled in towards him on every side. “What a fool I was to be lured into this trap like a wild beast!” and he ground his teeth with rage as he thought of the governor’s smiling treachery.
Dangerous as was his situation now, the Prince was not in the least bothered. He remembered the gifts his aunt had given him when they parted, and it seemed to him as if she must have foreseen this hour of need. He coolly opened the flint-bag that his aunt had given him and set fire to the grass near him. Then drawing the sword of Murakumo from its sheath he set to work to cut down the grass on either side of him with all speed. He was determined to die, if that were necessary, fighting for his life and not standing still waiting for death to come to him.
Strange to say the wind began to change and to blow from the opposite direction, and the fiercest part of the burning bush which had threatened to come upon him was now blown right away from him, and the Prince, without even a scratch on his body or a single hair burned, lived to tell the tale of his wonderful escape, while the wind rising to a gale overtook the governor, and he was burned to death in the flames he had set alight to kill Yamato Take.
Now the Prince attributed his escape entirely to the virtue of the sword of Murakumo, and to the protection of Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess of Ise, who controls the wind and promises the safety of all who pray to her in the hour of danger. Lifting the precious sword he raised it above his head many times in token of his great respect, and as he did this he renamed it Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi or the Grass-cutting Sword, and the place where he set fire to the grass round him and escaped from death in the burning plain, he called Yaidzu. To this day there is a spot along the great Hokkaido railway named Yaidzu, which is said to be the very place where this thrilling event took place.
Thus the brave Prince Yamato Take escaped from of the trap laid for him by his enemy. He was resourceful and courageous, and finally outwitted and defeated all his enemies. Leaving Yaidzu he marched eastward, and came to the shore at Idzu from where he wished to cross to Kadzusa.
In these dangers and adventures he had been followed by his faithful loving wife the Princess Ototachibana. For his sake she counted the weariness of the long journeys and the dangers of war as nothing, and her love for her warrior husband was so great that she felt well repaid for all her wanderings if she could just hand him his sword when he went forth to battle, or take care of his wants when he returned weary to the camp.
But the heart of the Prince was full of war and conquest and he didn’t care much about the faithful Ototachibana. From long traveling, and from care and grief at her lord’s coldness to her, her beauty had faded, and her ivory skin was burnt brown by the sun, and the Prince told her one day that her place was in the Palace behind the screens at home and not with him on the warpath. But in spite of rejections and indifference on her husband’s part, Ototachibana could not find it in her heart to leave him. But perhaps it would have been better for her if she had done so, for on the way to Idzu, when they came to Owari, her heart was broken.
Here living in a palace shaded by pine trees, was the Princess Miyadzu, beautiful as the cherry blossom in the blushing dawn of a spring morning. Her garments were dainty and bright, and her skin was white as snow, for she had never known what it was to be weary along the path of duty or to walk in the heat of a summer’s sun. The Prince was ashamed of his sunburnt wife in her travel-stained garments, and told her to remain behind while he went to visit the Princess Miyadzu. Day after day he spent hours in the gardens and the Palace of his new friend, thinking only of his pleasure, and caring little for his poor wife who remained behind to weep in the tent at the misery which had come into her life. Yet she was so faithful a wife, and her character so patient, that she never allowed a criticism to escape her lips, or a frown to change the sweet sadness of her face, and she was always ready with a smile to welcome her husband back.
At last the day came when the Prince Yamato Take had to depart for Idzu and cross over the sea to Kadzusa, and he told his wife to follow in his retinue as an attendant while he went to say farewell to the Princess Miyadzu. She came out to greet him dressed in gorgeous robes, and she seemed more beautiful than ever, and when Yamato Take saw her he forgot his wife, his duty, and everything except the joy of the present, and swore that he would return to Owari and marry her when the war was over. As he looked up when he had said these words he met the large almond eyes of Ototachibana fixed on him in unspeakable sadness and wonder, and he knew that he had done wrong, but he hardened his heart and rode on, caring little for the pain he had caused her.
When they reached the seashore at Idzu his men searched for boats on which to cross the straits to Kadzusa, but it was difficult to find enough boats to allow all the soldiers to embark. Then the Prince stood on the beach, and in the pride of his strength he scoffed and said,”This is not the sea! This is only a stream! Why do you men want so many boats? I could jump this if I wanted.”
When at last they had all embarked and were on their way across the straits, the sky suddenly clouded and a great storm arose. The waves rose as high as mountains, the wind howled, the lightning flashed and the thunder rolled, and the boat which held Ototachibana and the Prince and his men was tossed from crest to crest of the rolling waves, till it seemed that every moment must be their last and that they must all be swallowed up in the angry sea. For Kin Jin, the Dragon King of the Sea, had heard Yamato Take jeer, and had raised this terrible storm in anger, to show the scoffing Prince how awful the sea could be even though it did look like a stream.
The terrified crew lowered the sails and looked after the rudder, and worked for their dear lives’, but all in vain—the storm only seemed to increase in violence, and everyone gave themselves up for lost. Then the faithful Ototachibana rose, and forgetting all the grief that her husband had caused her, forgetting even that he had wearied of her, in the one great desire of her love to save him, she determined to sacrifice her life to rescue him from death if it were possible.
While the waves dashed over the ship and the wind whirled round them in fury she stood up and said,”Surely all this has come because the Prince has angered Rin Jin, the God of the Sea, by his mockery. If so, I, Ototachibana, will satisfy the anger of the Sea God who desires than my husband’s life!”
Then addressing the sea she said,”I will take the place of Yamato Take. I will now throw myself into your depths, giving my life for his. Therefore hear me and bring him safely to the shore of Kadzusa.”
With these words she leaped quickly into the sea, and the waves soon whirled her away and she was lost to sight. Strange to say, the storm stopped at once, and the sea became as calm and smooth. The gods of the sea were now satisfied, and the weather cleared and the sun shone as on a summer’s day.
Yamato Take soon reached the opposite shore and landed safely, even as his wife Ototachibana had prayed. His ability in war was marvelous, and he succeeded after some time in conquering the Eastern Barbarians, the Ainu.
He attributed his safe landing wholly to the faithfulness of his wife, who had so willingly and lovingly sacrificed herself in the hour of his utmost danger. His heart was softened at the remembrance of her, and he never allowed her to pass from his thoughts even for a moment. Too late had he learned to value the goodness of her heart and the greatness of her love for him.
As he was returning home he came to the high pass of the Usui Toge, and here he stood and gazed at the wonderful view beneath him. The country, from this great height, all lay open to his sight, mountains and plain and forest, with rivers winding like silver ribbons through the land. Then far off he saw the distant sea, which shimmered in the great distance, where Ototachibana had given her life for him, and as he turned towards it he stretched out his arms, and thinking of her love which he had scorned and his faithlessness to her, his heart burst out into a sorrowful and bitter cry,”Azuma, Azuma, Ya!” (Oh! my wife, my wife!) And to this day there is a district in Tokyo called Azuma, which commemorates the words of Prince Yamato Take, and the place where his faithful wife leapt into the sea to save him is still pointed out. So, though in life the Princess Ototachibana was unhappy, history keeps her memory fresh, and the story of her unselfishness and heroic death will never pass away.
Yamato Take had now fulfilled all his father’s orders, he had defeated all the rebels, and rid the land of all robbers and enemies, and his fame was great, for in the whole land there was no one who could stand up against him, he was so strong in battle and wise.
He was about to return straight for home by the way he had come, when the thought struck him that he would find it more interesting to take another route, so he passed through the province of Owari and came to the province of Omi.
When the Prince reached Omi he found the people in a state of great excitement and fear. In many houses as he passed along he saw the signs of mourning and heard loud lamentations. On inquiring the cause of this he was told that a terrible monster had appeared in the mountains, who everyday came down from there and made raids on the villages, devouring whoever he could seize. Many homes had been made desolate and the men were afraid to go out to their work in the fields, or the women to go to the rivers to wash their rice.
When Yamato Take heard this his he said fiercely,”From the western end of Kiushiu to the eastern corner of Yezo I have defeated all the King’s enemies—there is no one who dares to break the laws or to rebel against the King. It. is indeed a matter for wonder that here in this place, so near the capital, a wicked monster has dared to live and be the terror of the King’s subjects.. I will start out and kill it at once.”
With these words he set out for the Ibuki Mountain, where the monster was said to live. He climbed up a good distance, when all of a sudden, at a bend in the path, a monster serpent appeared before him and blocked the way.
“This must be the monster,” said the Prince. “I do not need my sword for a serpent. I can kill him with my hands.”
He sprang on the serpent and tried to strangle it to death with his bare hands. It was not long before his exceptional strength left the serpent dead at his feet. Now a sudden darkness came over the mountain and rain began to fall, so that for the gloom and the rain the Prince could hardly see which way to take. In a short time, however, while he was groping his way down the pass, the weather cleared, and our brave hero was able to make his way quickly down the mountain.
When he got back he began to feel ill and to have burning pains in his feet, so he knew that the serpent had poisoned him. So great was his suffering that he could hardly move, much less walk, so he had himself carried to a place in the mountains famous for its hot mineral springs, which rose bubbling out of the earth, and almost boiling from the volcanic fires beneath.
Yamato Take bathed daily in these waters, and gradually he felt his strength come again, and the pains left him, till at last one day he found with great joy that he was quite recovered. He now hurried to the temples of Ise, where you will remember that he prayed before undertaking this long journey. His aunt, priestess of the shrine, who had blessed him on his setting out, now came to welcome him back. He told her of the many dangers he had encountered and of how marvelously his life had been preserved through all—and she praised his courage and his warrior’s ability, and then she returned thanks to their ancestor the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, to whose protection they both attributed the Prince’s success.