Hotsuma-Tsutae The Book of Heaven (Chapters 15) [Contents] [Japanese] [French]

The Veneration of Inari and the Connection with Foxes
(Origins of Human Waste Recycling)


Sosanowo's wanton nature caused great trouble to everyone around him. He would alternately suffer bouts of violent behaviour, fits of pitiful weeping, and sudden outbursts of uncontrolled rage. Once he double-planted unhulled rice in sacred rice fields being prepared for the Niiname (Festival of New Fruits), thereby stunting the growth of the rice and ruining the crop. Another time, he released horses into the fields and allowed them to trample down the field ridges, again ruining the crops before they could be harvested. There seemed no end to Sosanowo's acts of wanton mischief.
His mother Isanami was convinced that she herself was ultimately responsible for Sosanowo's misdeeds. She built the Kumano Shrine in the hope of exorcising his unruly spirit and preventing any further ill from befalling the good people of the land. And there she prayed daily, assuming her son's crimes upon herself.

One day, Sosanowo, seemingly oblivious to his mother's distress, started a fire on the mountain of Mikumano, the flames even reaching into the Kumano Shrine itself. Isanami confined herself inside the shrine and prayed earnestly that the gods might quell the raging fire. The first god she invoked was Kagutsuchi, the fire deity. But, tragically, she herself became swept up in the billowing flames and was burned to death. In that instant, she also gave birth to the earth deity, Haniyasu, and finally to the water deity, Mizuhame. Kagutsuchi and Haniyasu joined together and begat a child whom they named Wakamusubi. Silkworms and mulberry trees grew from this deity's head, and rice from his navel. Later, he would be venerated under the names of Inari and Ukemitama, a noble deity who provided people with food and clothing.

Isanami had involuntarily produced these three deities and had been burned to death due to her anxiety over the fate of her unworthy son Sosanowo. She was buried with all pomp in Arima (in present-day Kumano City, Mie Prefecture) by the villagers, who held her sincerity of heart in great affection. For thousands of years since then, right up to the present day, people have held the Tamashizume (soul-placating) festival there, with flowers in the spring and harvest fruits in autumn.

(Ukemochi and Kada)

The food that the first ruler Kunitokotachi offered up at the festival of the deity Amemiwoya (the Great Parent Deity of the Heavens) in ancient times probably consisted of nuts such as chestnuts and walnuts, since this was before the full start of rice cultivation. The line of Ukemochi (Deity of Food) started with the son of one the Kunisatsuchi (the second generation of rulers). Kadamaro, who was active during the reign of Amateru, was an eighth generation descendant of Ukemochi.

In the days when Ukemochi ruled over the Central Land of Reed Plains (now the Kinki and Chugoku regions), he prayed to the deity Ameminakanushi in the heavens that he should bestow the seeds of good food for the people. His prayer reached the heavens and hiyouru seeds, full of the spirit of the sun and moon, fell down to earth from the skies. Ukemochi quickly planted these seeds of divine grace. The ones that received the spirit of the sun and sprouted at the water's edge grew into wet-field rice, and the ones that contained the spirit of the moon grew into the crops of dry fields.
When the first day of the eighth month came, the seeds first sown by Ukemochi had grown into rice plants with heavily laden ears, yielding a rich harvest. Ukemochi offered the first fruits of the harvest to the third sovereign Toyokunnu, and they celebrated the harvest together. Toyokunnu in turn presented red, white and yellow cotton offerings to the deity Amenakafushi, and held a festival of thanksgiving. Polished rice was cooked and offered up to the gods. From this started the custom of inviting friends and acquaintances to exchange gifts on the first day of the eighth month (in the old lunar calendar), known as the festival of Hassaku until the Edo era. Another custom that developed later was that of making mochi rice cakes with a pestle and mortar and offering these to the gods on the first day of the new year. In the reign of the particularly reverent fourth ruler, Ubichini, this food was offered to the gods on the first day of every month.

However, when it came to the reign of the sixth heavenly rulers, Omotaru and Kashikone, the rice yield gradually fell and there was a succession of poor harvests. Amateru, who was keenly concerned for the wellbeing of his people, had the idea of going to the land of Ukemochi, which had a reputation for always having good seeds, and getting them to share some of their stronger strains. For this purpose, he sent his younger brother Tsukiyomi as an envoy.
Actually, the descendants of Ukemochi had been making industrious efforts to improve the strains of rice ever since receiving the seeds from the heavens. They realized from an early stage that crop growth was promoted by laying human waste as fertilizer. They had also cultivated highly productive strains that were resistant to typhoon and pest damage.

News of Amateru's command for the dispatch of Tsukiyomi had already reached Ukemochi before he set off, and negotiations on a schedule for the visit had already been concluded. Tsukiyomi, as a member of the sovereign family, took it for granted that he would be met at the border, as was customary when such an eminent person made a procession. However, this was not the case, and he was obliged to travel an unfamiliar road before at last arriving in the domain of the 7th Ukemochi.
Tsukiyomi arrived at Ukemochi's palace and announced his business. He received a curt reply:
"I'm answering a call of nature in the privy right now. Would you go on ahead to the assembly hall." What a way to greet a member of the sacred nobility! But Tsukiyomi controlled his indignation at such rudeness and started to walk on towards the assembly hall, which could be seen beyond the farmland. As he approached, observing the terrain and surrounding scenery on the way, he saw the villagers taking polished rice out of the mouth of a night-soil bucket and cooking it. And as he proceeded further to fields where farm work was in progress, he was accidentally spattered with muck being scooped up with a ladle. Further on his way he met farmers who were filling turnips into malodorous muck buckets and carrying them across their shoulders on yokes as they made their way to the assembly hall.

Having arrived there, he first washed the filth off his garments. Then, after some considerable time, Ukemochi himself appeared. With no word of thanks for the long journey, and with only a hurried word of greeting, a crude meal was offered. It was indeed the most frugal of meals, consisting only of piles of rice with a vegetable broth, served on straw matting.
For Tsukiyomi, accustomed to the fine banquets of the court, this was more an insult than a welcome. What's more, the unthinkable custom of using human waste as fertilizer for crops was not something for the likes of Tsukiyomi. Misunderstanding Ukemochi's simple nature, Tsukiyomi finally exploded with rage at these countless acts of discourtesy.
"Insolent cur! This filthy meal is not worthy to be spat upon!" he fumed, kicking the food away. Then he rose up and, drawing his sword, slew Ukemochi on the spot.
Tsukiyomi swiftly returned to court and reported to Amateru about his rude treatment. Amateru listened in silence, then fixed his brother with a look of astonishment and perplexity.
"You are an unfeeling wretch who has no discernment over good and evil", he said, with a rare tone of rebuke. "You have committed a crime which cannot be undone. Never show me your face again. Leave the court!"
Partly as a result of this, Amateru retired temporarily from the daytime running of political affairs, and only went up to the court at night.

To atone for Tsukiyomi's misadventure, Amateru appointed Amekumado as his new envoy, whom he once again sent to the land of Ukemochi.
On his arrival, Amekumado found that the now deceased Ukemochi had been succeeded by his son Kada (Kadamaro). To ensure there would be no discourtesy this time, Kada rigorously followed court custom and greeted the party courteously. The two achieved a famous rapport and vowed to meet again. As a gift to take back to Amateru, Kada offered very carefully selected unhulled rice seeds. Amekumado took the seeds back, whereupon Amateru immediately issued a decree. The heads of all villages in the country were to be assembled, the seeds were to be distributed to them, and they were to take the seeds back to their lands and plant them in their paddy fields. And as the autumn came, those seeds yielded rice with heavily-laden ears, and a rich harvest was brought in across the land.
The country once again knew prosperity, affluence returned to people's lives, and the peace was restored.

Kada, meanwhile, was the first to conceive the technique of putting boiled cocoons in the mouth to moisten them while drawing out the threads of silk. He taught this method of sericulture to the people and spread the technology of silkworm farming. Until now, people had only worn clothes made of hemp or cotton. Beautiful new garments made of silk brought new luxury to their lives, and Kada was revered long afterwards as a "protector of the people".

(The Struggles with the Six Hatare)

Kada had, in a time of dark misfortune, averted a national crisis by offering up highly productive rice strains. He then came to be involved in the government of the central court as a leading minister. But even so, the reign of Amateru was not all quiet and peaceful.

Six bands of rebels known as hatare rose up together in different parts of the country, and attacked Amateru's court with a view to overturning his rule. Particularly fearsome among the hatare was a band led by three brothers who had crossed the straits from Kyushu to attack the Hanayama area (now the Yamashina district of Fushimi in Kyoto) in the central land. They were known as the Kikumichi (Kitsune or Kikutsune). Even now, they were gathering a mighty host of rebels on the moor of Hanayama and prepared to attack the capital.
A series of express messengers relayed intelligence on the enemy to court. Meanwhile, the anguished pleas of ordinary people who had fallen victim to their advances continued to ring out, and the court was in great commotion as it tried to address the situation.

Amateru issued a command to Kadamaro, descendant of Ukemochi, to survey the enemy movements in his own land and bring back news. Kadamaro, now in the youthful prime of his life, accepted the command and immediately set off with an army of nobles. On reaching the moor of Hanayama, they cut a way through the swamps only to find that the Kikumichi had transformed the surrounding landscape, causing chrysanthemums of various colours to bloom wildly all around. To add to the confusion, they caused the colours of the flowers to gradually change. The nobles, entranced by the amazing transformations, suddenly found themselves surrounded by tens of thousands of Kikumichi men, and were unable to move. Then, from nowhere, came gorgeous maidens dancing to the sound of enchanting music, spreading out in all directions. For a while, the nobles were helplessly spellbound by a magical world of fantasy.
Heavy clouds suddenly swelled up and a great darkness fell all around, preventing any further advance. Then a multitude of burning torches appeared all over the plains and mountains, and the night sky was crossed by the lights of fireflies. Angry fires of rage shot into the air to the accompaniment of mocking laughter. As soon as these had disappeared, a shower of flaming bluestones fell upon the heads of the nobles. With their prospects of progress blocked, the sovereign army had no choice but to make a slow retreat. Kadamaro alone raced away to the court to report on events to Amateru.
Hearing the report, Amateru thought briefly before issuing his command.
"This is without doubt the witchcraft of the Kikutsune. Their name is like the words kitsune (fox) and kutsune (badger). As a tree (ki or east) grows from its root (ne or north), in our calendar east follows north, and goes through west (tsu) to return again to north. This gives you ki-tsu-ne. So, you should fry rats (ne-sumi, which "live in the north") and give them to the foxes.
"A badger (kutsune), meanwhile, is different. He dislikes the tail of the will-o'-the-wisp (kitsunebi, fox fire). You can overcome them all by smoking the root of the ginger plant."

On receiving this command, Kadamaro explained the nature of the Kikutsune to the nobles, and returned with his army to the moor of Hanayama.
Again, the rebel demons led by the three brothers made chrysanthemums bloom wildly, startling the host with their frequent changes of colour.
Kadamaro now scattered fried rats, the "secret weapon" instructed by Amateru, into the enemy ranks. The Kikutsune fought amongst themselves to snatch the rats, and their magic spells became confused. Kadamaro's men took their chance to attack them boldly. Having momentarily let their disguises down, the Kitsune rushed headlong to escape, and were hunted down by Kadamaro's men. A thousand were captured and were about to be slain. But then a pitiful cry for mercy came up from the prisoners.
"We beg you, let us return to allegiance as upright vassals of our Lord Amateru. Spare us and we will devote our lives to his service."
Hearing this, Kadamaro was convinced by the sincerity of their remorse and untied the ropes that bound them. In return for their pardon, he made them twist large quantities of straw rope together to form a huge net that measured 3 sato (about ten kilometres). With this he prepared his next strategy.
For the remaining Kitsune warriors, Kadamaro burnt pepper and ginger, making sure the smoke would smother the rebels downwind. Immediately their witchcraft ceased to have any effect, and they were attacked and chased with the huge net. After a stern battle, prisoners were again taken. Finally, with the same strategy as before, the sovereign forces now hunted down the three brothers at the head of the Kitsune rebels and bound them in stout bracken ropes.
To capture the remainder of the fleeing hordes, Kadamaro's men once again took the gigantic net of straw rope, made in the way described above, and spread it across the plain. They then drove the rebels into it, seizing them all in one fell swoop. Altogether 330,000 rebels were caught and bound. The three brothers who led them were thrown into dungeons and bound over to their local lords, and the sovereign army returned to the court in great triumph.

Once the battles were over, the three Kiku brothers were taken to Shirasu as prisoners. There, mirrors were held up to them, whereupon the appearance of foxes was observed in their reflection. For this reason, they were called "the three foxes". An assembly of the nobles was convened to decide their fate and that of the 330,000 other prisoners. It was decided that their crimes were of such severity that they should all be put to death.
But then Kada, with an earnest countenance, suddenly started to plea for their lives.
"They all repent for their crimes", he said, "and have vowed to become good vassals of the Lord Amateru. I beg you to spare their lives, and for this I shall myself pledge responsibility for their future actions."
At first, the other nobles were not so easily convinced. Kada continued to plead in desperation for the lives of the Kitsune, repeating the same vow seven times.
And eventually, seeing Kada's passionate appearance as he continued to plead for clemency, the nobles agreed that the Kitsune should be spared.
Amateru, who had been watching as these events unfolded, now issued a command.
"Through the compassion of the Lord Kada, the three brothers and all the Kitsune under their command shall this time be spared. In return, they shall all be made to guard the deity Ukemitama for eternity. Should they ever neglect this duty and break their faith, they shall be put to death forthwith.
"Lord Kadamaro shall henceforth take these men as his retainers and shall restore them to good vassals."
Kada conveyed Amateru's decree to the three brothers and assigned them their duties.
"The eldest brother is to stay here at court to protect the sacred food", he said. "The second shall be sent to the moor of Hanayama in Yamashiro. And the youngest shall go to Asukano in the eastern lands. All three of you shall have the duty of protecting the rice and crop fields from birds and rodents in your respective areas of assignment."

So, with this command from the Lord Amateru, the Kitsune (foxes) continued to serve as guardians of Ukemitama, Ukemochi, and Kada (the three Inari deities) into posterity, and in this capacity protected the people's food.

(Seiji Takabatake, from the 15th aya of the Hotsuma-Tsutae)

- END -

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

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