Allow to borrow a few panels of my comic retelling of the legend of Kunibiki (starts here), in which the god Yatsukamizuomitsunu-no-mikoto dragged land from Korea and other parts of Japan to expand on the land of Izumo and build what we now know as the Shimane Peninsula.



(And now allow me to borrow from part of my later explanation of the legend in relation to history and geography.)

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?

Now for the update—–I have finally found the forest.

While my friend and I were already in the area searching out the Manai springs and surrounding shrines, we searched it out, transversing the narrow roads between rice paddies, following a handful of maps, keeping our eyes peeled, when at last we found it, the forest of legend.

…Huh?

That’s it?

That’s it.

As much as I like searching out spots associated with the loads of mythology that took place in this region, this one is humorously underwhelming. We got a few laughs out of it as we took our pictures, an a curious farmer parked his truck behind us to strike up a conversation in his thick Izumo dialect. Seems a festival had taken place there recently, but since he lives in the neighboring neighborhood instead, he wasn’t sure of all the details.

One of the things he was sure of was that way back when he was young, this area was all forest.



Underwhelming through Ou-no-Mori may be now, these quiet hills are heavy with history of passed centuries, as the Izumo region was ruled from here, affectively hundreds and thousands of lives and remaining mindful of the gods’ mythological influence on them. Though what happens here now merely seems to affect the sparse locals, the awareness of mythological presence lingers on.

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