Hotsuma-Tsutae The Book of Heaven (Chapters 1) [Contents] [Japanese] [French]

The Story of Wakahime and the Start of Waka Songs

Omotaru and Kashikone, the 6th generation of "heavenly sovereigns", remained without an heir. Toyoke (father of Isanami and now the deity of the Ise Outer Shrine) found this deeply worrying.

Omotaru and Kashikone had toured the length and breadth of the land, developing new rice fields and bringing affluence to the people. In doing so, they had helped to unite the nation. However, since they were not blessed with an heir, after their death the land reverted to unruliness, the people turned to vagabondage, begging and theft became rampant, and starvation rife. The hearts of the people, now bereft of a benevolent ruler, grew dark, and disease and pestilence were commonplace.

Things reached such a point that Toyoke, himself a descendant of the ruling line, now made a bold decision. He would forge a marriage between his daughter Isako and the Prince Takahito, with whom she shared a distant ancestor, and cause their accession as the 7th generation of sovereigns.

But this would not be so easily achieved. For, while Isako had been raised in her father's home province of Hitakami (now the Tohoku region of northern Japan), Takahito's home was in the Land of Ne (now the Hokuriku region skirting the Japan Sea coast). They spoke different dialects and practised different customs. These hurdles would take time to overcome, and the young pair were not so quickly convinced.

First, Hayatama-no-wo was appointed as a go-between. But his approach was too hasty and the attempt ended in failure. Next, Kotosaka-no-wo was given the task. He took the time to carefully explain the gravity of the situation, and ultimately succeeded in "bridging the gap" between them. Isako and Takahito agreed to the marriage plan.

A new palace for them was to be built in Tsukuba, as a compromise between the Sendai area where Isako had been raised and Takahito's home in what is now Kanazawa (Ishikawa Prefecture). Built on a plateau a little set off from the River Isagawa (today's Sakuragawa), this palace was given the name of Isamiya (the Palace of Isa).

At the newly built palace, Takahito and Isako opened their hearts to each other and joined in a solemn vow to dedicate their lives to the revival of the nation. From this day on, Takahito was given the new name of Isanagi and Isako that of Isanami, under which names they acceded as the 7th generation of heavenly sovereigns.

It was shortly after Isanagi and Isanami had entered their life of matrimony at the Palace of Isa in Tsukuba. Kotosaka-no-wo again came to help break down their mutual reserve, and introduced them to the ritual beverage (a kind of sake) for nuptial consummation. First, the male would proffer the cup for the female to drink, after which she would invite him to drink in turn.

Isanagi now enquired as to Isanami's physical condition. She replied "I am fully endowed, yet there is a part of me that is incomplete". To this, Isanagi answered, "There is a part of me that is overly complete. Let us join those parts together and create children."

So saying, the two then consummated their marriage and, in due course, produced a baby girl. Born in the daytime, she was named "Hiruko" ("Daytime Child").

But there was a problem. In the year that Hiruko was born, Isanagi was 40 years of age and Isanami 31. Two years later they would be 42 and 33, respectively, and this would be an extremely unlucky year for them according to traditional belief. Should an evil spirit be lingering at this time, a female child would bring defilement to her father, while a male child would cause calamity to his mother.

Though lovingly raised by her parents, before Hiruko could reach the age of three she was separated from them and set adrift on a river, in a boat made of rock camphor. Downstream, Kanasaki (the deity Sumiyoshi) rescued the child. She was then nursed by his wife Yeshinazu and brought up as one of their own. Yeshinazu, as it happened, had just lost a child, and so, for her, the foundling was a source of renewed joy.

Kanasaki looked kindly upon the child with smiling eyes, and amused her with child-like babbling and clapping of hands. On Hiruko's birthday, they offered boiled rice to the gods, then showed her how to eat properly and, taking her hands, taught her bodily deportment.

In her third winter, they dressed her hair. This was a ceremony in which a child's hair was groomed for the first time. On New Year's Day, they pounded rice-cakes and offered them to the gods of heaven and earth. The whole clan gathered to celebrate the new year. On the 3rd day of the 3rd month they celebrated the Hina festival, and on the 5th day of the 5th month they put up irises and ate rice wrapped in leaves. On the 7th of the 7th month they celebrated the Tanabata festival, and on the 9th of the 9th month they offered up chrysanthemums and chestnuts.

In their fifth winter, boys wore hakama garments for the first time, and girls donned katsuki. Also, from the age of five, children were always taught the Awa-no-Uta (Song of A and Wa) to correct their pronunciation. It went:
A ka ha na ma i ki hi ni mi u ku
hu nu mu e ke he ne me o ko ho no
mo to ro so yo wo te re se ye tu ru
su yu n ti ri si yi ta ra sa ya wa
Having passed through all these traditional rituals, Hiruko grew to be a beautiful young woman. And now that her bad luck had been cast off in the water of the river, she was once again returned to her parents. They reinstated her as the younger sister of Amateru, and changed her name from Hiruko to Wakahirume (Wakahime).

By this time, Isanagi and Isanami had already travelled to Tsukushi (now Kyushu), where their third child Tsukiyomi was born and raised. Tsukiyomi, likened to the "moon that shines in the light of the sun", was later to join the heavenly court, where he would assist his elder brother Amateru in administering his rule.

Now Isanagi and Isanagi travelled to Sosa (today, Kumano in Wakayama Prefecture), where they built a new palace. The region was named the Land of "Kishii", because they had "come" (ki-ta) and now lived (i-ru) in peace (shi-zuka). Here Isanagi planted tachibana orange trees (bearing the "eternal flowers" of his primeval ancestor Kunitokotachi) as he revived the nation, lending the area the epithet of the "eternal country".

Here, too, Hiruko, the once abandoned child, now lived in peace with her mother. But one day, just as Isanami was teaching her child songs under the blossom one spring, she gave birth once more. The baby boy was named Hanakine, after the blossom. He was later to be the notorious Sosanowo.

Hanakine, who also grew up here in Sosa, asked his sister, blessed with her mother's beauty and possessing a gift for song, about waka songs.
"Why", he asked, "are waka songs sung in five-seven metre?"
His sister replied, "Because that is the rhythm of heaven and earth".

Hanakine then asked, "In that case, why do songs of purification have 32 syllables but ordinary songs only 31?"
Wakahime again replied, "There is a very logical reason why waka songs have 31 syllables. This earth of ours has 365 days in every year. If we divide this year into four seasons, each with its early part, its middle, and its end, each of these parts will be about 31 days long. Each moon is less than thirty days long. But the true number is 31. Between the 5th and 8th months there are more than 31, and, because the latter are affected by the former, there are sometimes 32. Songs of purification, to protect against defilement and calamity by inferring the timing of these irregularities, have 32 syllables.
"We, who have been blessed with human life in this beautiful land of Shikishima, give thanks for the blessings of the land by making offerings at our tutelary shrines, once every 31 days for boys and once every 32 days for girls. For this reason we call Shikishima the Way of the Waka."

Time moves on, and the Lord Amateru is now conducting his rule of the land from his seat in the Palace of Isawa (now Mie Prefecture).

A succession of messengers came racing in with news from the Land of Kishii.
"The rice fields of Kishii have been afflicted by a plague of locusts and the crops are being devastated. We beg the Lord Amateru to come and deliver us of these locusts", they begged repeatedly.

As fate would have it, Amateru was up at Ame-no-Manai (now Kyoto Prefecture) at the time, mourning for the death of the Lord Toyoke. His Chief Mistress Mukatsuhime (Seoritsu Honoko), hearing the plight of the people and moved to give them succour, hurried to the area in person, accompanied by Wakahime. There, they started to tackle the situation.

First, Wakahime stood to the east of the rice fields and waved a fan made of bundled leaves, singing a song to drive the locusts away. As the insects flew up, Mukatsuhime divided thirty girls into two groups and arranged them to the right and left of the fields. Then they all together chanted the waka magic charm for driving away locusts that Wakahime had composed.

They sang the song over and over again, chanting it 360 times in all and making it reverberate all around. Now the locusts all flew up as one and disappeared far over the western sea. And quiet descended on the fields once more.

This is the waka magic charm for driving away locusts:
Tane, hatane, umu, suki, sakame,
mame, sumera no zoro ha mo hameso
musi mo mina simu

"Seeds, crops of the fields, barley, wheat, beans, soybeans, red beans, leaves of rice too, do not eat, you insects, but all grow still."
Thanks to this song composed by Wakahime, disaster was averted. The rice grew green once more and was revived.

By autumn, the rice was abundant in both leaf and grain, and the darkest days were over. The peasants reaped a rich harvest this year, bringing them a veritable bounty of food and great happiness. In gratitude to the two princesses, they then built the two palaces of Ahinomae and Tamatsu.

Ahinomae was to be for the residence of the Chief Mistress Mukatsuhime, while Tamatsu was dedicated to Wakahime. Mukatsuhime later returned to Isawa, leaving Ahinomae as a defensive facility for the local area. This is where the memory of Mukatsuhime's assistance has been honoured throughout posterity (the present Kunikake Shrine).

The spirit of Wakahime's song was honoured in the Tamatsu Palace. And to commemorate her resuscitation of the failing rice crop through the power of song, this land was renamed the Land of Waka, which comes down to us today in the name of Wakayama Prefecture.

The people of Kishii, now affluent and in good spirit, served Wakahime with sincere devotion. She in turn repaid their service by tarrying awhile in this beautiful part of the country, and spent peaceful years in harmonious rule of this region.

One day, a young man arrived at the Palace of Tamatsu, bearing a message from Lord Amateru. His name was Achihiko. Wakahime was instantly struck with love for him, and expressed her yearning for him by composing a waka song. She dyed the song on a wooden tablet known as utami and, overcoming her reservation, proffered it to Achihiko. Nonchalantly, he accepted her gift, and read:
Kishii koso tsuma wo migiwa ni
koto no ne no toko ni wagimi wo
matsu so koishiki*

"Welcome to Kishii. Your wife by your side, I await your lordship with love in the bedroom, to the sound of koto playing."
Achihiko was stunned by this sudden confession of love. For, in normal events, the first approach would be made through a go-between (hashikake). Achihiko was too taken aback to compose a formal reply right away. The best he could do was to blurt out, "Please wait. I will surely reply to you soon." And with that, he made his excuses and left, taking Wakahime's song with him.

On his hurried return to the court, Achihiko sought advice of the lords and ministers. For this was no everyday occurrence. He had a confession of love from Lord Amateru's own sister, and was now drifting between joy and distraction.

The Lord Kanasaki (the deity Sumiyoshi, Wakahime's erstwhile foster-father) listened with patience to Achihiko's troubles, before starting to speak.

"This song", he declared, "is a mawariuta. Once you've received one, there is no way for you to reply. For their syllables read the same from top to bottom as the other way round, and just go round in circles. Once, when I was accompanying the Lord Amateru on a journey by boat, we were caught in a fierce storm. The waves billowed high and threatened to engulf us. So I composed a mawariuta:
Nakaki yo no to-o no neburi no
mina mezame nami nori bune no
oto no yoki kana

("All awaken from a distant sleep on a long night, that the sound of the boat on the waves may be good.")
"Now at length the wind died down and the waves became still, and our ship could safely reach its port in Awa."

This explanation was not one iota of use to Achihiko. He remained as perplexed as ever.
"I must compose a song in reply to her. How should one reply to such a call of love?", he asked.

This time, it was Amateru himself who answered: "You must board Kanasaki's boat and marry her", he decreed. And so it was that Kanasaki's boat bridged the distance between the pair. A new palace was built for them near the River Yasu (in present day Shiga Prefecture), and they lived in matrimonial happiness. To mark the change, Amateru bestowed the alternative name of Shitateruhime on his sister.

Lord Amateru's Chief Mistress Mukatsuhime was now big with child. She built herself a maternity hut on the edge ("mimi") of the Oshihoi spring in Ise. Her child, a boy, thus received the imina (given name) of Oshihito and the tatahena (laudatory or official name) of Oshihomimi. While his grandfather Isanagi was still alive, the boy stayed with him in Taga (Shiga Prefecture), but as the old man came to the end of his life, Oshihito was next entrusted to his aunt and uncle, Hiruko (Wakahime) and Achihiko (Omohikane).

These two now looked after the boy and brought him up in their home at Yasu. At the same time they also ruled the Lands of Ne (Hokuriku) and Sahoko-Chitaru (the San'in region) in conjugal harmony. They had a son, named Shizuhiko (imina, given name) and Tachikarawo (tatahena, laudatory name).

Back at the court, the violent behaviour and abhorrent acts of Amateru's brother Sosanowo were increasing in severity by the day. Finally, he caused the death of one of Amateru's mistresses, albeit through negligence. This was an unpardonable offence. He was stripped of his "divine" rank and banished from the court, left to roam the "nether world" of ordinary mortals (shitatami) under the name of Sasurawo ("The Banished One").

During the bitter days of his banishment, he would always think of his older sister Wakahime, the only person, he felt, who had ever shown him kindness. He begged to be allowed to meet her one more time. At last his request was granted and he set off for Yasu.

As he approached the Palace at Yasu, the earth shook and there was a tremendous roar. Frightened, his sister remembered the dreadful tales of her brother's violence, and sealed up the doors of the palace to stop him coming in.

"It cannot be good that my brother comes here", she reasoned. "My father bequeathed our present kingdoms of Ne and Sahoko-Chitaru to him. His intention must be to take what he thinks is rightfully his."

Sosanowo had piled his hair up in a bun on his head, and had collected up the hems of his garment in the form of a hakama. His huge frame was adorned with 500 jewels, and he had fastened quivers holding 1,000 and 500 arrows to his elbows. As he brandished his bow to make the bowstring hum, he rose up with his sword in one hand.

"What do you fear?" he asked. "Was I not told to go the Land of Ne by our father's dying wish? I wish to go there after seeing you. I've come a long way. Will you not show me a little goodwill?"

Wakahime asked in reply: "What is your true intention?"

"After arriving in the Land of Ne, I will have children. If they are girls, I will be defiled. If boys, I will be pure. This is my solemn vow". And with that, he departed.

Actually, Wakahime had sore misgivings as to the sincerity of Sosanowo's intentions. This was because she knew of an illicit affair between Sosanowo and Komasu Hayako, one of Amateru's mistresses. Wakahime's real concern was for the three innocent little girls who had been born to Hayako after this affair.

Amateru, though knowing of the affair, confidently declared the children to be his own "treasures". But, all the same, it was decreed that they should all be removed to Usa in Tsukushi (Kyushu).

Hayako, her sister Mochiko, and her three children reluctantly agreed to depart, at Mukatsuhime's bidding, and prepared to leave for Kyushu. But, before they could do so, they fled to their family homes, leaving the children in the court. Thereafter they sported the cause of the younger brother Sosanowo, spreading rumours that he should be promoted to the rank of kunikami (local lord) for his merits. Thenceforth, spurred by their ill-will towards Mukatsuhime, they plotted against Amateru's rule for another 8 years, taking the nation to the brink of civil war.

Now, at a much later point in time, Kushikine Onamuchi (son of Sosanowo) was touring the provinces and giving guidance on agriculture. When the peasants, short of food due to natural calamities, appealed to him for help, he mistakenly allowed them to eat the meat of wild beasts. Now, as a divine punishment, their rice harvests that year were afflicted by plagues of locusts that ate the leaves of the rice plants bare. Kushikine, greatly shocked, now rushed to Shitateruhime in Yasu, to learn her method of driving away locusts.

On his return, he did as Wakahime had done before. He waved a fan made of bundled leaves, and, eventually, the locusts all flew up and dispersed. The rice seedlings regained their greenness and the harvest that autumn was abundant. Kushikine, in his joy and relief, dedicated his own daughter Takako to Shitateruhime's service. The noble Amakunitama, hearing this news, was so moved that he too presented his daughter Ogurahime to the service of Shitateruhime.

Shitateruhime taught her two new charges the sounds of the yakumo uchikoto, a type of zither. Later, as she approached her final days, she granted Takako the position of performer of the yakumo, the isusuki (a five-stringed instrument), and the kadagaki (a three-stringed lute). She also honoured her with the new name of Takateru. To Ogurahime, meanwhile, she entrusted a document entitled the Kumokushi-fumi, containing the inner mysteries of waka songs, as well as honouring her with her own tatahena name of Shitateruhime. Later, after her death, Wakahime was revered in Tamatsushima, in the Land of Waka, under the posthumous name of the deity Toshinori.

The Lord Amateru had by this time decided his time had come to "return to the sun". He gathered all the lords and ministers, and delivered his final will to his Chief Mistress, Mukatsuhime.

"When I am dead", he said, "go to Hirota and live out your days with my sister Wakahime. Stay true to your principles and live in fulfilment. I will have Saruta dig a tomb on this plain of Manai where the great Lord Toyoke lies buried, and there I shall die. I shall honour the Way of Toyoke and the Way of Man. This shall be the Way of Ise." And with these last words, he commanded that the entrance to the tomb be sealed.

(from the 1st aya of the Hotsuma-Tsutae)

- END -

Hotsuma-Tsutae (National Archives, Tokyo)
Hotsuma-Tsutae (period translation by Waniko Yasutoshi, ca. 1779)

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