In the previous entry, we addressed the historical origins of the Kunibiki (land-pulling) legend. Now to take a look at why it’s hard to come to the San’in region and not learn a little about this legend.
First of all, there is art like this everywhere:
More curiously, this painting at Yakumotatsu Fudoki-no-Oka has a number of people/gods pulling the land. Ah, don’t mind me pretending to be Susano-o here. I have a weakness for dress-up and you can do that for free in the museum lobby. We’ll bring up Fudoki-no-Oka again in a few paragraphs.
There is art both inside the Ichibata Railway between Matsue Shinjiko Onsen and Izumo Taisha and along the stations, including one I saw on the ceiling of one of the little local trains with Yatsuka saying his catchphrase, “Kuni, ko! Kuni, ko!” This is literally “land/country, come!”
Yumeminato Tower in Sakaiminato, on the tip of the island/peninsula one of Yatsuka’s ropes turned into, provides a view of the mythologically added-on land, and labels for everything you’d be looking at from the observation deck. Unfortunately, I visited just as it started raining that afternoon, and right after getting one shot you couldn’t see very far. Thankfully there is plenty to do inside the tower, my personal favorite spot being dedicated to the history of early contact with not only Korea, but others throughout the Asian continent. It’s too bad I didn’t take anyone to dress up with me in so many ethnic costumes that day!
While the story of Kunibiki is not included in the Kojiki, Yatsuka’s is listed among godly genealogy there (though this, like many elements of the Kojiki, if up to interpretation). Just as much a kami as any of the other eight million gods that populate Japan, he is enshrined at Nagahama Shrine along the coast of coast of Izumo, at the western end of the peninsula. Although sacred ropes are common in Shinto practice throughout Japan, this god’s use of ropes makes them a common theme at this shrine on their good luck charms. You know what else ropes can be used for? En-Musubi. Just one more way in which the San’in region finds ways to bind your fate.
Also in Izumo City, there is a Kunibiki Marathon, the 33rd of which was held last month.
Over here in modern-day central Matsue, the very word “Kunibiki” is a common part of life. Kunibiki-doro is a major street leading north from JR Matsue Station, and Kunibiki Bridge is the easternmost of a series of four bridges that link the northern city center to the southern city center over the Ohashi River. Does singer/song-writer Mai Hoshimura ring any bells for anyone? Her song “Kunibiki Ohashi” is named after this very bridge! The music video also makes generous use of footage from the Ichibata Railway and other scenes of Matsue:
Furthermore, Kunibiki Messe is Shimane’s largest full-scale convention and exhibition center, located just across the Kunibiki Bridge from Matsue Station.
But this legend has had influence on naming conventions long before that. Way back when this legend was being recorded in the Izumo-no-Kuni-Fudoki, and for a few centuries surrounded that, the governmental affairs of the region were handled from a district in what is now southern Matsue. This district was known as… Ou!
Yes, that “Ou” which Yatsuka shouted when he declared his work a job well done. Not only does the interpretation of the utterance vary slightly, but the spelling varies as well, and is further complicated by how it was written then and how it was written later on and how it’s even written differently now.
Are you ready for some language nerdiness now? His shout, whatever it expressed, was recorded with the characters 意恵 for the sounds as opposed to their meanings. Phonetically, they were later expressed as おゑ, which may look strange to the hiragana-inclined readers among you. This is because we no longer use the character ゑ (ye) in Japanese syllabary. It’s usually replaced by え (e, like eh) now, which is why the lucky god (and San’in native) Ebisu is usually called えびす, but depending on what beer you’re drinking you might still see ゑびす from time to time. However, in this case, “Oye” (oh-yeh, not oi!) was not usually transcribed as “Oe” but as “Ou” (like oh, not oo) or… “Iu”?
Now we need to get back to the use of characters used for pronunciation, though when it comes to place names, you’ll find the general rules of standard pronunciation for Chinese characters mashed around to fit the Japanese language are not always followed. For our purposes here, it’s not worth trying to make sense of. Let’s just accept that although Yatsuka may have shouted 意恵, the area named after his shout was recorded as 意宇. Although in some place names it would still be read “Ou” in keeping with the desired pronunciation cast upon these unsuspecting characters stripped of their meaning in favor of phonetics, the more common sense reading for them is “iu” (ee-oo).
Still following? Good! Because you find both “Ou” and “Iu” throughout the region. While the district of Ou has been parsed out and reorganized into other little neighborhoods that retain many names passed down from the Izumo-no-Kuni-Fudoki, when the area is called “Ou” you’re usually referring to the ancient government center and its ruins and the historic shrines found throughout that area. The aforementioned Fudoki-no-Oka is the best place to go to learn about this, though so far I haven’t visited the indoor exhibits because I was running out of time the day I have visited (having spent too much time that day at the neighboring shrines and folklore village, Izumo Kanbe-no-Sato). On the eastern stretches of good old Ou, there is the Iu River flowing down from Lake Nakaumi.
But what of that forest, made from Yatsuka’s rake?
Well, it’s not so much of a forest anymore as it is a grove of trees, but…
This is the main spot everyone is referring to as Ou-no-Mori (“The Forest of Ou”, written with an old character for forest: 意宇の杜), and has a few different kinds of trees. However, perhaps this is isn’t the only spot left over from the rake-forest.
Because the legend involves various look-out spots and geographical features throughout the region, you’ll find the word “Kunibiki” everywhere from Mt. Daisen to Mt. Sanbe. Now just think of how smart and cultured you’re going to look when you visit the region with your friends and tell them the myth behind the word they keep seeing? What with all the historical, geographical, and linguistic tidbits packed into these two entries, you can also look like a know-it-all and drive everyone crazy. Have fun!