Hotsuma-Tsutae The Book of Man (Chapters 32) [Contents] [Japanese] [French]

Mount Fuji and the Source of Everlasting Life

Part One Amateru's Chiyomi Grass and the Nishi-no-Haha Deity

In days of yore, when the light of Amateru's rule shone down on the land, the harvest increased in volume year by year, people's lives were affluent and the world was at peace.
One day, Amateru went to the coast at Futaminoura (in modern-day Mie Prefecture) accompanied by his son, Prince Kusuhi, whose familiar name was Nukatada.
Father and son bathed together in the briskly swelling tide to purify themselves. Then Kusuhi asked his father, ingenuously:
"Why is it that you, the most revered deity in the whole land, have to purify yourself? Do divine beings have impurities, too?"
Amateru smiled benignly at his son's childlike question. Then he turned to address Kusuhi and the other nobles who accompanied them, saying quietly:
"Nukatada my son, and all you nobles gathered here, listen well. When I was born, I was truly like an egg, without blemish in body or mind. I was stoutly protected by the shell of my parents' compassion, and so was free of all impurity or uncleanness. But now that I hold the reins of government, the people come to appeal against ills that have befallen them. And as I listen to these appeals, my ears become impure. Sometimes I hear of quite repulsive wrongdoings, and, as I try to chastise and correct them, I too assume impurity in both body and mind. So I immerse my body in the relentless tide of the sea, and thereby cleanse myself in body and mind. Only then may I restore myself to the spirit of the sun and become divine again."

Amateru interrupted his discourse to survey the throng of people who had gathered around him. The ministers, who had been diligently recording the sovereign's words, now fell silent, together with the common folk who had listened intently to his every word. All that could be heard was the crashing of the waves on the shore.
As if encouraged by the intensity of their attention, Amateru continued. "Let me tell you about the food we should eat if we are to maintain a pure, correct and beautiful state of divinity. The thing we should shun more than anything is the meat of wild beasts. When we eat the flesh of four-legged creatures, we may feel that their spirit enters us. But in fact, the blood in our bodies will become unclean, our flesh will wither and be afflicted by disease, and we will suffer and perish while still young. Just as muddy water dries up, so our body and blood, if impure, will congeal and succumb to disease. In this case, we should eat fresh vegetables in abundance. Then our muddied blood will become red and radiant like the sun, and our lives will assume a strength like the tide here at Futaminoura. I cherish all my subjects, whether noble ministers or common people, as if they were my own sons. I pray to the gods that all my people may all live long lives in peace, richness and health.
"Listen carefully, all of you. Of all our foods, none can surpass rice in excellence. It is a blessed food that is full of the spirit of the sun and moon. The next is fish, and the third is fowl. But the meat of fowl can sometimes bring too much bad spirit, which can make us ill. If we eat the meat of fowl or wild beasts, it is like stirring up the fire in a lighted torch and too quickly wasting the oil in the burner. If their essence is too dominant, it will reduce the valuable fat on which we live. If we continually eat the meat of wild beasts, our muscles will shrivel and obesity will take hold. The good fat of our life will diminish, our faces will become thin, and our hair will fall out. Then we will die and give off foul odours. "One winter, the Lord of Suwa appealed to me thus: 'Shinano is very cold in winter. The people eat the flesh of fowl and wild animals to keep themselves warm. Will you permit this?'. My reply was quite firm. 'You should change your way of thinking. There are forty types of fish that can be eaten. Tell them to eat fish. Even then, they should eat fresh vegetables for three days to cleanse themselves. Forbid them to eat fowl or wild animals, and send this command out across the land!'.
"Some may not regret losing their life. But even so, if their blood is impure, the knot (tama-no-wo) that connects the heavenly spirit (tama) to the carnal self (shii) will be undone, and the soul will be condemned to suffering and torment. In the end, unable to bear the suffering of the carnal self, they will seek comfort in the spirits of birds and wild beasts, and their souls will become one with them. Then they will be unable to return again in human form.
"Humans live under the dominant spirits of the sun and moon. If they do good deeds, live pure, long lives and die a natural death, the heavens will reward them. They will not become beasts, and their souls will be taken up to heaven. Then the gods will give them new life in human form and return them to the world.
"Let me tell you what I always eat. It is the herb called chiyomi grass, one hundred times more bitter than the bitterest herb. But thanks to this bitter grass, I have lived this long life and can continue to govern the land for the good of the people. I have already lived for 240,000 years, but still I bloom like the kakitsubata (rabbit-eared iris). I plan to live for another million years, so that I may see the world of the future. "Kusuhi, listen well to what my aunt, Princess Kokori told me. She said that, long ago, the Kunitokotachi deity who created this land went to survey the whole of the earth. When he arrived in the western lands, he pacified the wild landscape and formed a country called Kurosonotsumite (the Chinese Xuen Yuan Ji). This is the land we call Ka today (the Xia dynasty of China, 20th to 16th centuries BC), or Akagata. One of Kunitokotachi's sons, Ka-no-Kunisatsuchi, was made King of Ka, and his descendants have ruled that land since the birth and accession of his son, Toyokunnu of Akagata.
"But as the many years went by, people came to neglect the Way of Heaven which they were obliged to observe, and the Way fell into disuse.
"So Ukesuteme ('female who receives and discards'), a noblewoman of that land, crossed over to the Land of Ne within our shores, and entered the service of Tamakine, the Lord Toyoke (deity of the Ise Outer Shrine). She served under him for so long and studied with such profound devotion that he made her a sister-in-law to his daughter Kokori, and even taught her the Innermost Secrets of asceticism.
"Ukesuteme gladly accepted his gifts, and on her return to China, married the King of Korobin (Kun Lun, a mountain range between China and Tibet). She bore a child named Kurosonotsumoru, and became known as 'Nishi-no-Haha Kami' (the Western Mother Deity, known in Chinese legend as Xi Wang Mu, or 'West-Queen-Mother').
"Nishi-no-Haha again came to the court, saying: 'In the Land of Korobin, people foolishly eat the flesh of wild beasts, and they all die young. The average life is only some 100 or 200 years. Eating meat every day is shortening people's lives. When the King of China acceded to power as the most powerful of all the nobles, I advised him to abandon the custom of eating meat. But the custom still continues. The King of Shina now searches everywhere for the chiyomi grass of the Land of Horai (Mount Fuji), but always in vain. He begged me most piteously to find it for him.' "In gratitude for my own long life, achieved by purifying mind and body from daily impurity and observing the Way of Heaven, I took pity on the King of Shina and taught the Innermost Secrets.
"Think about it. Your life is your body's treasure. We should make this into a proverb. Even if ten thousand great kings should bring all their wisdom together, not one of them could replace the life of a single human being."

Part Two Ninikine and the Harami Grass

The "Heavenly Grandchild", Amateru's grandson Ninikine, moved his capital from the Nihari Palace in Tsukuba to the foothills of Mount Harami (now Mount Fuji), where he built the new Haramiya Palace. From there, together with his beloved consort Konohanasakuya, he governed the nation with a rule that was excellent and true. So much so that this region was lauded with the epithet "Hotsuma Kuni" (Land of Excellent Truth).
The lake in the crater of Mount Harami came to be known as Lake Konoshiro. This originated from the time when Konohanasakuya, wishing to prove her innocence against slanderous accusations, shut herself and her three boys inside a pit chamber and set fire to it, intending to kill herself and her triplets. As the little ones squirmed in the heat, a deity called Tatsutahime heard their cries, changed into a dragon that lived in the lake and came to their aid by spurting water. Thanks to this, mother and children were all saved.

One day, when Ninikine was throwing raha weed to the plovers on Lake Konoshiro, he was greatly fascinated to see how they flocked to catch the feed. So much so that he commissioned Komori (his Minister of the Right) to create a picture of it. This he did by weaving it onto twill, which he attached to his sleeves.
Raha weed was a medicinal herb resembling turnip leaves. It was said to increase the blood supply and slow the process of aging.
When Ninikine conducted his affairs of government, he wore garments adorned with pictures of haona weed. From that time on, the harvests were fuller and richer than they had ever been.
It was said that, if you ate this haona weed, you could live for a thousand years. Young greens are often bitter, but this weed was a hundred times more so. As a result, people were reluctant to eat it, despite the promise of such immense longevity. Its root resembled the human body in shape, its leaf was like that of an aster or starwort, and its flower was eight-fold.

Once, when Ninikine was visiting the northern lands, he caught a chill and fell ill with abdominal pains. Komori brewed a concoction of medicinal herbs and gave it to him to drink. Eventually, the pain ceased. The concoction consisted of three ingredients, one of which was hitomigusa or ginseng grass. This had a small root and was pale yellow in colour. Its single stalk was divided into four, each of which had five leaves. For this reason it resembled the limbs and digits of the human body (hitomi). It bore small white flowers, and in the autumn produced a berry resembling the azuki red bean. It was bitter-sweet to taste, and its medicinal effect was to enrich the spleen and cure lung disease.
Today, there are many different medicinal herbs, but none can surpass the three herbs of ha, ra and mi (haona, raha and hitomi). And in honour of these three, the sovereign named the mountain Mount Harami.

Part Three Yamato-Futoni's Ascent of Mount Fuji and the Chiyomi Grass

It was the 12th day of the 25th year in the reign of Yamato-Futoni (or Korei, the 7th "human emperor").
The Governor of Suwa in Shinano came up to the capital and presented a picture of Mount Harami (Mount Fuji) to celebrate the New Year. The sovereign was pleased with the picture and praised the sacred peak of the mountain, whose sublime beauty was beyond compare. Just at this time, Amemikage, a descendant of Shirahige in Omi (now revered at the Shirahige Shrine in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture) also came to present a picture of Awaumi (Lake Biwa). The sovereign was endlessly fascinated by this curious juxtaposition of mountain and lake, and rewarded the bearers of the pictures with a bounty of gifts.
One day, Yamato-Futoni spoke to Lord Kasuga (Prince Ametarashi-Hikokuni, son of the 5th sovereign), saying:
"In truth, I had once before seen a picture of this Mount Harami, but the shape of it was not pleasing and I threw it away. But now, quite by chance, I see these pictures of lake and mountain juxtaposed. They seem like two halves of the same design, and this seems an exceedingly good omen. I have heard that the chiyomi grass was all burnt away by the eruption of the volcano 500 years ago, but this is surely a sign that the seeds of grasses and trees have been restored to life there.
"If we nourish the mountain with the goodness from the lake, the herb of everlasting life will surely be revived", he declared with uncommonly good cheer.

Some ten years later, on the 10th day of the 36th year, Yamato-Futoni chose the Prince Mochikine as his heir and underwent the customary ritual to make the succession official. Now relieved of this burden, in the third month he set off in person on his long-cherished mission to ascend Mount Harami.
The sovereign's departure was proceeded by a command for preparations to be made along the route of his procession. First, he mounted a palanquin at the palace of Kuroda, setting off for Kaguyama. After worshipping at the tomb of Kanyamato Ihawarehiko (Jimmu) at Kashio, he headed for the Kamo Shrine in Yamashiro (Kyoto) where he prayed to Ninikine and Ugayafuki-Awasezu. Then he proceeded to the Taga Shrine in Omi, where the deities who had opened up the land were revered. He passed along the Kiso road to Suwa, then entered the palace of Sakaori in Kai, where he was lavishly entertained by Takehiteru.
The next day, the sovereign defied his advancing years to start his ascent of the mountain, eventually arriving at the peak. There, he surveyed the land all around and was greatly moved by this fulfilment of his long-held ambition.
He made a rapid descent down the Subashiri exit, then travelled around the foothills on the southern side before arriving at the Mume Great Palace (now the Asama Shrine). The Lord Kasuga, waiting there, allowed the sovereign to recover sufficiently from his fatigue before asking,
"Is this herb, which is woven on your garments and has been found on Mount Harami, really the famous chiyomi grass?".
The nobles boiled the weed and tried to eat it. But it was so exceedingly bitter that none could do so.
The central peak of Mount Harami, towering high and capped with snow, could be seen as the exact counterpart of the depths of Awaumi (Lake Biwa). In former times, there had been eight lakes around the foothills of Mount Harami, but three had been filled by the last great eruption. Though damaged by the outflow of molten lava, the Konoshiro Lake at the volcano's entrance still remained as it had been in the time of Ninikine.
The sovereign, remembering tales from the "age of the gods", was moved in his joy to compose a poem.
Naka ha furi naka ha wakitsutsu
kono Yamato tomo shizumari no
kono yama yo kore
("The centre is old, but the centre still springs forth. This mountain, verily, has been quietened together with our Yamato!")

After reciting the poem, the sovereign decided to give the mountain a new name to commemorate his auspicious ascent. Just at that time, a shore dweller from Tago came before him, offering a bundle of fuji (wisteria) flowers.
The sovereign was so inspired by this gift that he composed another poem, alluding to his new name for the mountain.
Harami yama hitofuru sake yo
fuji tsuru no na o mo yukari no
kono yama yo kore
("Let the wisteria vines that bloom on the slopes of Mount Harami give the origin for the name of this mountain!")

As a result of this poem, the mountain came to be known as "Fuji-no-Yama", or "Mountain of Wisterias".

(Seiji Takabatake, from the 15th, 24th, and 32nd aya of the Hotsuma-Tsutae)

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

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