Princess Toyotama and the Hollyhock Poem - Origins of the Hollyhock Festival -
Prince Hohodemi (popularly known as "Yamasachihiko" or "Prince Bounty of the Mountains"), unable to find the fish-hook lent to him by his elder brother Honosusumi, was wandering along the seashore at Kehi (in modern day Fukui Prefecture).
By chance, he happened upon a wild goose that was caught in a trap. Seeing in the goose something of his own plight, he promptly set it free.
A senior nobleman by the name of Shihozutsu had been watching. He said:
"You have nothing to fear. Leave it all to me." He took a fishing net and a small sailing boat, placed in it a poem he himself had composed, and sent them all off together to the palace of Hadezumi in Tsukushi (Kyushu).
Landing eventually at Udo in Umashi, Hohodemi was warmly welcomed by Hadezumi. And thanks to the efforts of his host, he was able to retrieve the fish-hook and return it to his brother.
Once this episode was over, Hohodemi gathered the local governors of Tsukushi and announced:
"I intend to take myself a wife. Does any of you have an opinion to offer?".
The noble Hotakami replied, "Your father Ninikine has already appointed you Lord of Tsukushi, and that makes you our sovereign. You should do as you feel fit. Your father was betrothed to your mother Konohanasakuya in a single night of conjugality, then formally married her at a later time. We are truly grateful that you have consulted us in advance of your intentions."
A court of the nobles was then convened, whereupon Hadezumi's first daughter Toyotama was named as the Prince's chief consort. For the wedding, they all removed to the Kagoshima Palace, where the ceremony was held in great pomp and majesty.
On the morning of the third day after the wedding, Toyozumi, elder brother of Toyotama, gathered the six princesses in the three lesser ranks (two each for the ranks of suke, uchime, and shimome) and adorned their heads with jewelled bamboo hats. He placed in their hands jewelled urns filled with water, and with these they waited eagerly for the Prince to emerge. When at last he did, they emptied water onto his head, and sang this song in unison:
The governors of the 32 counties of Tsukushi now joined with all the people in their joyous cries of "Yorotoshi!" ("Long may they live!").
After the marriage, Hohodemi first toured the 32 counties of Tsukushi to observe the dams and dikes built by his father Ninikine on an earlier visit, as well as his development of new rice fields. Then, after making some improvements, he returned to his palace at Kagoshima.
Every year, the harvests increased, and the land became rich. However, the province of Aso alone remained infertile and its land barren.
Hohodemi built a new palace at Aso and moved his court there. In an effort to improve the soil quality, he ploughed in fish meal as a fertilizer, and soon created thriving rice fields.
Again, despite long years of diligent effort, the official rice fields of Shiga still weren't producing an adequate yield. So, once again, Hohodemi moved his court to the Tsukushi Palace to embark on further land improvements. This time, he used oil husks to mulch the fields, whereupon the soil in Kasuya (part of modern-day Fukuoka Prefecture) became fertile and yielded huge harvests.
With similar requests for soil improvement from the other 30 counties, Hohodemi went to each in turn, giving instruction as the situation demanded. As a result, rice harvests improved dramatically, the people's lives became stable, and a peaceful environment ensued.
Hohodemi continued to work selflessly and tirelessly in improving livelihoods and developing agriculture in this land.
However, neither his chief consort Toyotama nor any of the six princesses had yet conceived a child. This so troubled Hohodemi that he decided to reconsider his own lifestyle and way of thinking.
Suddenly, leaving all the princesses behind at the Tsukushi Palace, he returned to the temporary palace at Udo, accompanied only by his chief consort Toyotama. This was where he had first landed in Tsukushi. Here the pair lived in quiet seclusion as they reaffirmed their love for each other.
Toyotama's father Hadezumi was concerned, and invited them to rest at the Kagoshima Palace. But Toyotama declined the offer. Now at last recognizing Hohodemi's true intentions, Hadezumi sent a message to Udo. "Perhaps you have exerted yourself too much. You should rest."
Indeed, Hohodemi had overexerted himself, to the point that he had fallen into mental stress. This was affecting his marital life. If there were no heir, the government would be disrupted. If the administration collapsed, the people would suffer. It was for the people's sake that Hohodemi took this step of quasi-retirement.
On the fifteenth day of the third month, the sovereign Ninikine issued a decree.
"After constructing the Nihari Palace in Tsukuba, I then moved to Mount Harami in search of abundant water for rice field development, and at length completed my creation of the Land of Hotsuma. But now I am growing old, and wish to pass the sovereign dignity to my son Hohodemi."
Receiving this message in Tsukushi, Hohodemi bade a sad and emotional farewell to the 32 governors and set off to rejoin his father at the Mizuho Palace.
The noble Shiga consulted with the head boatman as to the time needed for Hohodemi's journey. The boatman replied, "If he travels by large kame boat, the journey will take more than a month. If he uses a kamo boat it will take about a month. But if he goes by large wani boat, he will arrive very soon."
Hohodemi then said, "My father's call demands the utmost urgency. I shall go by large wani to Kita-no-Tsu. Toyotama should follow behind at her leisure in a kamo boat, which will provide less violent movement." He set sail from Shika-no-Ura (now Hakata Bay) and was swiftly blown by favourable winds to Kita-no-Tsu (Tsuruga Bay). News of his arrival at the Isasawake Palace was quickly relayed to the court at Mizuho, to great rejoicing from his father Ninikine and the ministers.
Actually, the time spent in loving isolation at Udo had borne fruit, for Toyotama had conceived a child and her labour was not far off. As Hohodemi prepared to depart for Kita-no-Tsu, she had approached him and said:
"As you have instructed, I will protect this child whatever befalls me. I shall follow you in a kamo boat. Will you kindly prepare a maternity hut on the other side, in which I may deliver the baby."
On his arrival at Kita-no-Tsu, Hohodemi immediately instructed his attendants to start work on building the maternity hut. But the boat carrying Toyotama arrived with far greater speed than expected. The assembly of the ridge-pole was not yet complete and the roof was unthatched. No sooner was the princess rushed in than she gave birth to a baby boy.
All the important ministers of the land had gathered here at Kita-no-Tsu in preparation for this moment. The noble Katsute, who had authority over internal affairs of the sovereign household, proffered a chair for Toyotama, out of concern for her physical condition after her labour. He also prepared the baby's first bathwater, known as "ugaya". This was made by infusing a broth from Japanese sunflowers and floating the flowers on the top. It created a very pleasant aroma and provided a soothing first bath for the baby's precious skin.
Hohodemi's elder brother Honosusumi (Sakuragi) also prepared a bath for the baby. This was concocted by boiling makuri (a type of seaweed) with water. Its medicinal effects helped to expel the baby's first faecal discharge.
In this way, the baby's first mucus and stools were discharged and his upbringing was successfully started. For the ritual of cutting the umbilical cord, Hotakami used a knife made of dappled bamboo. This was said to have sprouted from the site of the pit chamber where Ninikine's consort Konohanasakuya had tried to kill herself, and her three new-born children, in an attempt to prove her innocence. Meanwhile, the Omononushi (Komori) performed a ritual to scare away evil spirits. He did this by creating a whistling sound from a mulberry bow and shooting off feathered arrows.
Ame-no-Koyane now considered the child's familiar name, deciding eventually on "Kamohito". This was in reference to Toyotama's journey in a kamo boat before arriving in Kita-no-Tsu to deliver the baby.
As the baby's formal name, Toyotama herself proffered Nagisatake-Ugayafuki-Awasezu. This was to commemorate the noble courage with which she had survived all odds to deliver her child in a maternity hut with an unthatched roof. For the kamo boat in which she had first travelled had struck rocks and was shipwrecked near Cape Miho in Izumo. Toyotama, along with her younger brother Takezumi and the noble Hotakami, was thrown out of the boat by the impact, and was on the point of drowning. But as she struggled between the waves, she felt an indomitable courage well up inside her. She thought:
"I must do all I can to remain alive, so that I may continue to protect this child inside my belly! I must deliver this child safely, for the sake of my Lord Hohodemi!"
The strength of this resolve lent her a superhuman courage that enabled her to remain afloat above the waves. At last a fishing boat rescued her and brought her to the shore, with waves crashing all around. From there, she immediately transferred to a large wani boat, which quickly brought her to Kita-no-Tsu. The name she gave to her baby bespoke a mother's love for her child, as well as her unyielding resolve to fulfil her duty to her husband, the future sovereign.
When the baby was born, Katsute had delivered a word of warning to Hohodemi. "For 75 days after the birth", he said, "no man may look into the maternity hut. The baby will receive its ugaya bath every day, and the princess will need to recover from her labour. This has been the custom since long ago."
So Hohodemi, saddened at being parted from his wife and child for so long, consoled himself by walking among the pine groves at Kehi every day.
Sometimes, his walk would take him near Toyotama's maternity hut. One day, as he passed close by, he noticed that the door was ajar. Concerned that something might be amiss, he casually glanced inside. There, he saw the princess lying belly down on a mattress, without a stitch of clothing on her back, relaxing in the confidence that she was alone.
As soon as he had peeped in, Hohodemi remembered Katsute's warning. He quietly closed the door and crept away, gradually increasing his pace.
But the sound awoke the princess. Her heart was now full of unspeakable shame that her husband had seen her in such an ignoble state. In her shame, she resolved never to set foot in his presence again. After completing her bodily purification for the sixth month of the old calendar, she quietly slipped away from the maternity hut, together with her brother Takezumi, and made for the temporary palace at Wonifu.
And this was where she decided to part from her beloved child. She held him too her, gently stroking his sweet face and dear little hands. Then she spoke with a firm resolve.
"Your mother is filled with unbearable shame", she said, "such that she can never see your father again. Today we must part, and I will return to my native land. Perhaps we will meet again one day. You must grow up to be good and brave."
Saying this through her tears, she handed the baby to her wet nurse and female servants, and set off reluctantly for the Kuchiki River. The baby may have been hers, but he was also a treasure for her husband. It was a decision made in sore vexation at the hazards she faced in her journey and life ahead.
Toyotama and Takezumi followed the mountain ravines upwards towards the upper reaches of the Kuchiki River, arriving at Yamashiro (part of modern-day Kyoto) on the third day. They at last stopped for rest when they reached the shrine of Mizuhame (the goddess of water) to the north of Mount Waketsuchi (now Mount Kibune).
News of the flight soon reached Hohodemi at Mizuho, where he had rejoined his father Ninikine. Astonished to hear of such events, they first sent Hotakami to entreat Takezumi not to move any further. Messengers from the Wonifu Palace brought regular reports on Toyotama's movements, but no suitable idea could be found to resolve the situation and bring the princess back to court.
There was only one possibility left: to persuade Toyotama through her father Hadezumi and her younger sister Ototama in Tsukushi. On receiving the news, Hadezumi and Ototama set off in a wani boat, arriving at Nishinomiya. From there, they headed towards Yamashiro. Once at Mizuhame, they tried to persuade Toyotama to return. But she would only reply with firm resolve: "A person who has left the court can never return. Forget about me, and offer Ototama to the court in my place."
Hadezumi took this message up to the Mizuho Palace, where, as Toyotama had requested, her sister was accepted into service.
The "Heavenly Grandchild" Ninikine, in awareness of his lengthening years, had already passed the sovereignty on to Hohodemi without waiting for Toyotama to return. The rites of accession were duly held with all majesty at Mizuho. Following the example of Nihari, they held a Great Festival of Accession in the yuki and suki pavilions. Eight great banners were hung up to proclaim peace and prosperity for the people, and the Three Heavenly Treasures were venerated. The following day, Hohodemi appeared before the people and accepted their supplication as their new sovereign.
Subsequently, words of encouragement were occasionally sent to the princess via court messengers. But Toyotama showed no sign of a change of heart.
With the sovereignty successfully passed on to his son, Ninikine assumed the dignified title of "O-oyekimi" ("Great Parent Sovereign"). Early the following year, he made his way to Mount Waketsuchi. On his way through the mountains, he picked hollyhock and katsura leaves and attached them to his sleeves.
On his arrival, he was met cordially by Toyotama. He took one of the leaves from his sleeve and asked her, "What leaf is this?"
"Why, that is a hollyhock leaf", she replied.
"And this one?".
"A katsura leaf".
"And is there nothing missing?".
"Missing? No, nothing is missing."
"But you have abandoned the outside world, have you not. That means you are missing the Way of Humanity".
With this, Toyotama was taken aback. She had suddenly been made aware of her own selfishness, and started to feel ashamed and sorry for causing this old man so much trouble.
"I did not intend to be inadequate in any way", she explained. "But, first, I swam for my life, in a quite unwomanly way, before I was rescued. Then my husband saw me as I lay sleeping on my belly, with all modesty removed. How could I possibly go to the capital after that?"
"There is no shame in any of this", Ninikine replied. "Listen to me. For 75 days after a woman has given birth, she is to have relations with no man. Otherwise, she may never return to full health. Katsute's warning was not meant for yourself, but for your husband. It is he who should be ashamed, for peeping at you.
"Perhaps this may make it clearer. Since olden days, there has been a saying: A dragon, when young, first lives for a thousand years in the ocean. There, it learns the ways of the sea. Next, it lives for a thousand years in the mountains, and learns the ways of the mountains. Finally it lives for a thousand years in a village, and learns the art of "tsuku" and "hanaru" - valuing what is good and discarding the rest. Only when it attains these three stages of enlightenment can a dragon become a true "Dragon King".
"When you fell into the sea, your devotion to your child gave you the indomitable courage that helped you swim to safety. This was the first stage. If you come up to the court and greet everyone with good cheer, you will be spared ridicule, and with that you will attain the second stage. The final stage will be to reconcile yourself with your husband and follow the Way of Conjugality. With this you will reach enlightenment on the human spirit, and by attaining these three stages, just like the Dragon King, you will attain true nobility.
"Do you not think the Dragon King noble?"
But Toyotama had no words to express her shame at having brought so much concern into the old sovereign's life.
As it happened, Ninikine was accompanied on his journey by Princess Mihotsu, mother of Komori. He asked her what she thought. Mihotsu gave a great sigh, then replied cheerfully:
"My Lord, methinks there is naught to concern you. For the Lord Hohodemi and the Princess Toyotama were, from the beginning, as inseparable as the sun and the moon. I think that, sooner or later, they will be reunited."
When he heard this, Ninikine felt greatly relieved. Smiling broadly, he instructed Takezumi to take good care of Toyotama, and gave him, in exchange, the district of Kawai (now part of Kyoto City). Then he went back into the valley, down to Murotsu, and prepared to embark on a kame boat that had come to meet him.
Hohodemi had come down to see his father off on his journey. To him, Ninikine had these last words to say.
"Just as the sun and the moon light up the heavens, so the world of man must also be bright. Darkness chills the soul. In the government of the land, darkness causes the human spirit to become disparate and the nation to wither away. You must work together with Koyane and the Omononushi in your government. And you must entrust the internal affairs of the court to the Princess Mihotsu." So saying, he got into the boat and set off for Kagoshima.
Soon afterwards, Ninikine passed away on Mount Takachiho in Tsukushi.
After 48 days of mourning, Hohodemi again asked Koyane about the Princess Toyotama. She, too, had been in mourning on Mount Waketsuchi.
"My Lord, there is a good precedent", Komori replied. "Perhaps you should send the Princess a poem."
Hohodemi agreed, and immediately set about composing a poem. Mihotsu's granddaughter Isoyori was entrusted with the task of taking it to Toyotama. The Princess was delighted to receive her visitor, who stood and recited the sovereign's poem to her:
Toyotama listened to the poem in silence. Then she asked, "And what does the Princess Mihotsu say?". Now Isoyori recited a poem composed by Mihotsu.
When Toyotama heard these two poems, she knew that everyone at court had forgiven her past shame. Taking the hollyhock leaf as a symbol of herself as a woman and the katsura leaf as a symbol of the sovereign, she wrapped them both carefully in paper, tied it with string made of mizuhiki grass, placed it in a dispatch box, and presented it to her visitors.
Hohodemi opened the package himself, and read the return poem that Toyotama had written:
When he had read this poem three times, Hohodemi could no longer hold back the tears. The teardrops landing on his knee moistened the hollyhock leaf and left a stain on his clothing.
Soon Toyotama would be riding into the capital in a palanquin sent for her by Hohodemi. The whole court of Mizuho erupted in scenes of joyous celebration, with cries of "Yorotoshi! Yorotoshi!" ("Long may she live!") ringing out far and wide.
To convey the unparalleled emotion of these events to all posterity, three types of fabric were designed to incorporate the motif of the hollyhock leaf. They were the ko-aoi, the kokochiri, and the yamahatoiro, all used thereafter for formal garments worn by court officials.
(Seiji Takabatake, from the 26th aya of the Hotsuma-Tsutae)
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