When you hear of the old province of Inaba, you might already be aware of the famous White Hare of Inaba thanks to his role in a popular Kojiki myth. He is not the only famous animal of the region, which is also known for the Inaba-Go-Kitsune—the Five Foxes of Inaba.

Foxes (kitsune) are known throughout Japan as tricksters that are adept are transforming, especially into humans, and especially into beautiful women. Of these local five, one was called “Otonjoro,” based on the name she took while pretending to be a prostitute (joro) in Yoshiwara (the famed red light district of Tokyo back when it was Edo). While acting as “Otomi” she used her trickery to fool around with the men of the big city, but when she got bored of that, she returned home to Inaba Province. This is one of the stories about her.

The villagers could tell she was up to no good in the area, and dreaded falling victim to her tricks. “We should offer a big reward for someone to do away with that Otonjoro,” they said.

Two young men stepped forward, confident in their abilities to best the beast. “We’ll get rid of her, so make sure it’s a really big reward!”

When it was a full moon, they staked out that night in the shadows of a big tree, and soon they saw a big fox come by. Silently, they watched as she placed a leaf from the tree on her head, spun around, and then ever so slowly transformed into a young woman. She took a large stone and plopped it into the river, and when she took it out, it was topped with water plants. This she cradled into her arms, and then it took the shape of an infant. As she walked off with the stone baby, the two young men stalked after her back towards the village.

The fox women came to a house, where the old man and old woman inside welcomed her, thinking it was their daughter and grandchild. The young men watched and listened from the windows, and when the old lady came outside, they addressed her in hushed tones. “Pssst! Old Lady! That woman in your house is a fox–it’s Otonjoro!”

“Don’t be stupid!” she laughed.

“It really is! You’re being fooled by a fox. She only looks like your daughter because she’s in disguise!” they pleaded and desperately tried to gain her trust.

As their voices grew louder, the Old Man soon came outside. “What’s going on out here?”

“Oh, Dear, these two young men are trying to tell us we’re being fooled by a fox.”

“That’s absurd!” he bellowed. “How dare they insult our daughter and grandchild that way?”

“It’s true!” the young men retorted. “If you don’t believe us, throw the baby in a pot of boiling water. It’s not a baby, it’s a stone. The disguise will boil away and you’ll see we’re telling the truth.”

“Fine, if you’re so insistent, that’s what I’ll do!”

They boiled a pot of water and threw the baby in, but to the young men’s horror, the baby did not turn back into a stone. “How can this be?” they asked, incredulous and turning pale. “We were so sure–we saw it with our own eyes!”

The old couple was livid. “How dare you! Because of your accusations, our adorable grandchild is dead! We’re going to have you thrown in jail!”

Before the young pair could fumble any defense on their part, a monk heard their raised voices from outside, and then welcomed himself in to mediate. “Pardon the intrusion,” he said. “I heard what happened, and I do not think you should condemn these men to prison. Doing so will not erase their sin or bring your grandchild back to life. Instead, you should have them go to the temple and become monks, and they will spend their days in there praying for the child’s soul. What do you think of this?”

The old couple agreed, and forgave the young men. Fearful as though they had already been to hell, the young men eagerly followed the old man inside the temple, where they shaved their heads and offered a large fish at the altar. In order to atone for their sin, they began fervent prayers, praying with all their might throughout the night.

Several hours later they were startled by the sounds of people calling their names, and astonished to see that the sun had already rose. With the morning light, however, they saw that they were sitting in the middle of a grassy field rather than inside of a temple. There was only grass where the old couple’s house stood, as it had all been an illusion of Otonjoro’s making. The fish they offered, as well as the the fox they were trying to catch, was gone.

“That Otonjoro!” they growled. “She’s thoroughly had us.”

Vexing though it was, they rubbed their newly shaven heads and returned home.

Seems like a strange topic to write about twice, but despite how much I enjoyed the sand museum in Shimane, when most people think of sand in the San’in region, they’ll think of the Tottori Sand Dunes first. In fact, around the country when they think of sand dunes, Tottori will probably come up first–after all, they are Japan’s largest.

Why yes, that is a lot of sand. It’s been that way for over 100,000 years, but due to governmental intervention they’ve shrunk a bit this past century. In a new form of governmental intervention, they’re trying to reverse that to save a popular tourism spot.

Located just north of Tottori City, Tottori Prefecture’s capital, it is also very close to Hakuto Beach, where the White Hare of Inaba was said to have arrived on the mainland.

Rather than hares, however, you’re more likely to see camels.

They’re there for rides, of course, but the weather was cool so my friend and I decided to forego ride and walk. For the lazy who don’t feel like riding directly on an animal, there are also horse carriage rides to and from the best view points. For the more adventurous people, there are is a seasonal sand boarding course (I’d have been most interested in this!), hang gliding, and paragliding.

Of course, if you need a cheap thrill, you could always run down the dunes.

As for the way up, however, it’d be difficult to go quite as fast.







With all that sand, you’re going to attract more than just thrill seekers–you’re going to attract sand artists. In fact, The Sand Museum right across from the street from the dunes attracts an international team of artists every year for its “Traveling Around the World in Sand” sculpture exhibits. Each year, they focus on the history and culture of a different part of the world.

Previous exhibitions

The theme for 2014 (running until January 4, 2015) is Russia, and they had a team of 20 artists from 11 countries coming together to creature 21 Russia-themed scupltures, all but one of which are kept indoors to control the climate and lighting.

Lighting is very important with sand sculptures, as the shadows are what show the details. Hence, I didn’t take many photos–it wouldn’t be like seeing them in real life anyway, and I’d have to take blurry shots without flash in order to see anything. As you can see, the lighting source makes a big difference:

With flash


Without flash

With Tchaikovsky playing in the background, it was nice to stroll around, read the bilingual captions for each piece, and enjoy all the different angles, both high and low.



I think is my favorite face among all the sculptures.

My friend and I enjoyed a breezy day here and chilled out at a sand-dune themed cafe near JR Tottori station, but maybe next year I’ll go back to see a new exhibition and be a little more adventurous out on the sand. There’s also more singing sand to find nearby at Idegahama Beach! Not to mention a large collection of onsen… next time, Tottori! Next time!

This is a story from the old Izumo Province. Like the story in the previous entry, it has a wandering monk finding himself the target of trouble.

Although I haven’t really wandered into abandoned temples, you don’t have to in order to find giant spiders everywhere–in late summer and autumn, the colorful Japanese Wood Spiders sit in pairs in the middle of their webs, which are practically clustered among any stretch of branches or bushes, or the very industrious ones make rather ambitious webs stretching up to the tops of power lines. Scary though they might appear (and I’m not putting pictures here for viewers’ comfort, however interesting their appearance is) the humans and arachnids here stay out of each others’ way, and even if they do accidentally wind up in each others’ space, these spiders are not particularly dangerous. To humans, anyway. And that just goes for the normal spiders, anyway–can’t say the same for demonic spiders like in the story.

This story took place a very, very long time ago. One evening, there was a traveling monk making his way between temples. Rain started to fall in heavier and heavier droplets. The sun went down and the rain showed no sign of letting up, so he decided he should find a place to spend the night.

Far away from any villages, he at last found an old, secluded temple. He tried to inquire about the place, but he found nowhere there, and invited himself in to the living quarters meant for the head priest. He found that it was damp, stank of mold, and was filled with spider webs–it had fallen into horrendous ruin. “Well, it’ll be fine,” he decided. “I’ll just keep the fire lit until morning.”

He hurried to gather some burnable sticks from the garden, and then lit it up in the fireplace in the center of the room. The damp and dark room was immediately filled with a warm, red glow. Just as his body was starting to feel a bit warmer, he laid on his side by the fire, and was soon softly snoring.

After some unknown amount of time has passed, he sensed someone moving around, and his eyes shot open. The rain had let up, and through the window he could see the moon peaking out behind the pine trees. Staying completely quiet, he listened carefully.

There was a creak, creaking sound coming from the main hall. They were footsteps, growing closer. Then came the sound of old, broken shoji screens sliding aside.

“Who goes there, in this run down old temple?” he asked as he sat up. At that moment, the shoji screen to the room he occupied slid open, and a woman carrying to a baby stood there. The monk was quite surprised, and said, “I didn’t expect anyone to be living an old place like this.”

The woman took a seat on the floor, and then said in a pretty voice, “Is there any way I could ask you to take of this child for the night? Please don’t ask me why, just take him, please.”

Seeing as he was taking the liberty of staying in that place for the night anyway, and seeing as she had some dire reason for requesting this of him, he accepted.

“Thank you,” she said, then set the baby on the floor and stood up, slipping out of the room just as suddenly as she had come in. Following her exit, the baby, which had been set on his back, rolled over on to his stomach and began crawling towards the monk. One step, two steps, three steps, and so on it came.

The monk thought it was rather strange behavior, but then was distracted by what felt like a rope around his neck. When he tried to lift a hand to it, it started squeezing him with a terrible force. Looking back at the baby, he saw that it was no longer merely crawling, but it had a glint in its eyes as it fixated on him, and then starting sliding straight towards him.

“A monster!” the monk tried to shout, but his voice could not escape his throat.

Then, the baby began to rise towards the crickety ceiling by what looked like a silky thread, and then crawled towards a large hole.

Trying to escape, are you? the monk thought, and grabbed a large piece of firewood from the pit, and threw it at the baby with all the strength he could muster. When hit, the baby cried out with a loud, echoing scream, and this was the last thing the monk heard before he fainted.

Soon enough, morning came, and the monk came to. The hole in the ceiling was still there, and he went up to take a look. What he saw there shocking–many, many human bones scattered about, and two disturbingly large, dead spiders, a parent and child pair, skewered by a sharp piece of firewood.

The traveling monk gathered the bones and buried them appropriately, and buried the spider corpses somewhere deeper, somewhere further away.

This is local mythology that fits in alongside the Shinto legends known throughout the country, but it was recorded in the Izumo-no-Kuni-Fudoki (Chronicles of Ancient Izumo, 713-733 AD) as opposed to the Kojiki (711-712 AD) or Nihonshoki (720 AD). The manga this time is a single installment, and we’ll take a look at the associated geography in the following entry.


Don’t forget who Okuninushi is! He’ll continue to be important.
Why the ropes? That’s in reference to Kunibiki (start reading that story Fudoki story here.)



Recall that we first encountered these creatures in the story of the White Hare of Inaba. We’re fairly comfortable calling them sharks (in modern Japanese, same), but the word used in the archaic context is wani (translated from modern Japanese, “crocodile”).







Learn about the sites associated with this legend!
One of my favorite hiking spots in the San’in region, Oni-no-Shitaburui–where the crocasharkgator is stuck!

Or start reading the next story!
The rapid expansion of Okuninushi’s love life and rule over the land

(Note: This is local mythology that fits in alongside the Shinto legends known throughout the country, but it was recorded in the Izumo-no-Kuni-Fudoki (Chronicles of Ancient Izumo, 713-733 AD) as opposed to the Kojiki (711-712 AD) or Nihonshoki (720 AD).)

Or see the Kojiki a.t.b.b. masterlist!
The Kojiki Myths in Manga Form

The most recent installment of the Kojiki manga I wrote was rather long, but seeing as a lot of it takes place in the Underworld, I won’t be introducing that here (I staying in the world of the living, thanks).

That said, was Susano-o the lord of the Yomi, where his mother he so wanted to see was residing? Or is Ne-no-Kuni a different place? The interpretations of this vary. Some say he took over some sort of job for Izanami in the land of the dead, other say Ne-no-Kuni is different Underworld from Yomi and they just happen to share the same exit (which strikes me as funny that Onamuji/Okuninushi could escape so easily, seeing as Izanagi supposedly plugged that up). I’m inclined to say Yomi and Ne-no-Kuni are entirely different both just happen to be dark places under the normal realm, because although Izanami had become part of Yomi and, being a rotting corpse, could not reintegrate with this world, there was no such trouble for Okuninushi and Suseri. Whatever the case may be, the San’in region’s links to the Underworld(s) stand, and in addition to Yomotsu Hirasaka in southeastern Matsue, there is another cave in Izumo that, at least according to the Izumo Fudoki, claims a link to Yomi.

Back to the world of the living!

trials-shrines

Well, temporarily, seeing as we’re about to discuss the site of one of Onamuji’s deaths. Unwilling to settle for uncreative methods of killing their younger brother, the 80 nasty older brother kami first had him go boar hunting so as to run him over with a burning stone that is said to be a boar. This stone boar just so happens to be enshrined in Nanbu-cho, Tottori, or what would have been the land of Hoki back in the day (right in between Inaba, where they had all traveled to try to wed Yagami, and Izumo, where they were from).

Akaiwa Shrine, which literally means “red boar boulder” (赤猪岩), is dedicated to Okuninushi, and in the back of the shrine they have a fenced off boulder said to have been the one that burned him to death. It’s never said to have crushed him–it was the burns that did it. Such was how Umugi and Kisagai were able to heal him with skin treatments, which some say were based on ancient folk remedies used in real life. We’ll briefly touch of the two of them again in later stories.

Click for source–and more photos!


Here is the infamous boar… or… boulder. Boulders? Click for source, and more pictures!

Boars being boulders is not a terribly strange idea in the world of Japanese mythology. Ishinomiya Shrine, in the Shinji district of Matsue on the south banks of Lake Shinji, is another Okuninushi Shrine with similar features. The origins of the shrine can be found in the Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki. Besides generally being an encyclopedia of all things Japan at the time they were written (8th century, same as the Kojiki and Nihonshoki), part of their purpose was to name all of the geographical features of Japan and provide reasoning for those names. We can perhaps assume this takes place once he’s already comfortably living at the foot of Mt. Uka. I’ve paraphrased the story below:

One day, Okuninushi, the lord of the land, went boar hunting with his dog. They were chasing two boars, but then those two boars turned to stone. The dog also turned to stone. The end.

So… cool story?

Beside the name left behind (Shinji (宍道) is derived from Shishiji, “the path the boars took” (猪の道)), we also have more boulders left behind!


It’s hard to tell, but there is quite a drop here–watch your step!


Okuninushi’s dog


Okuninushi’s dog


A boar… looks big enough to feed a lot of kami.


A boar… they don’t always look like this, but Shinji is still known for the boars that live there.

This story highlights yet another animal relationship Okuninushi had–he got along with dogs, too. Although images of Onamuji/Okuninushi with the White Hare of Inaba are the most ubiquitous, he is also frequently associated with rats, seeing as they saved his life. Therefore, some Okuninushi or En-musubi shrines tend to have rats–especially white rats–incorporated in to the art. As seen at Kanayago Shrine, though, they can also signify good luck just due to being numerous. (However, Kanayago, the god(dess) of iron-working, hated dogs.)

Back to the story of Onamuji being repeatedly picked on by his brothers and revived by his mother, when Umugi extracted milk from the clams, that wasn’t all she used–she also drew water from Shimizui–the “pure water well” nearby the site of the red boar boulder.

Click for source–and more photos!

Next time, we’ll look at some shrines associated with Okuninushi’s family (though I am not aware of any dedicated to his nasty brothers–or his saintly mother, for that matter).

While walking home one day, I noticed a big white moth lying on the pavement. I think moths are pretty, so I stopped to observe it. Almost immediately, it started running towards my shoe and hopped on.

My shoe is not a flower, little friend!

I can’t imagine what the people in the cars driving by must have thought of the American stopping to take a picture of her shoe. I tried to shake it off, but it wouldn’t budge, so I tried to burshed it off with my hand, and then it started crawling on my hand. With much coaxing, I got it to hang on to a willow branch instead. Though I wouldn’t take it home with me or anything, it was fun to get a good look at it.

I notice a lot of different white moths the region, and instead of having a destination, many of them just seem to hang in the air. There is nothing like coming across a grove of sunlit blue hydrangea in the forest and seeing the air flicker with white moths. The frustrating thing is that it’s the kind of exchanting moment that isn’t captured very well by photography!

Uh… no, not sure how the car got there… following the exchanted moths, maybe?

Other times they are more blended in the surroundings, and only in enjoying those surroundings do you notice them. For example, this white moth, as well as a slightly smaller one in a different shape, were both chilling out on this flight of sunspotted shrine steps.


Other times they’re much more noticeable among their surroundings.

Am I strange for enjoying the moths so much? There are also plenty of butterflies of different colors and sizes, and many of the big black ones remind me of lace. I also enjoy spotting lizards–and once even a little frog!–on the steps up to my apartment and around the outside walls. To try to tie this entry together a bit instead of just posting every animal encouter that lasted long enough get a photo, I have just a couple more white animal favorites from here in Matsue.

This isn’t the only migratory swan I’ve seen–Lake Shinji is a favorite spot for them, and sometimes you see crowds of them (though I was never close enough to get a picture). I haven’t seen them much around the shores with more human activity, though, so it was a surprise one day while I was eating lunch by the northeast boardwalk and it calmly and silently paddled by, against the waves.

This other encounter was while walking through Kyomise, a charming little shopping district in Matsue south of the castle.

I had never noticed cats in that store before, but then again, the doors are usually open–perhaps they only prowl when the shop is closed!

In anticipation of 海の日 (Umi-no-Hi, “Marine Day”) this Monday, a public holiday set aside for enjoying and giving thanks for the ocean, here are a bunch of photos of various ocean scenes around Oki! Speaking of public holidays for appreciating nature, the land-locked prefectures (hard to believe there would be land-locked prefectures in Japan, huh? There’s 8 by my count!) can’t enjoy this public holiday like everyone else, so this year they decided to create a new public holiday, 山の日 (Yama-no-Hi, “Mountain Day”) to start on August 11, 2016.

This will wrap up my Oki entries for now, but the content of the rest of the trip might come up in the future, too. For now, enjoy the pretty ocean (and neat Geopark rock formations!)! And then go to the beach! If you’re not land-locked, anyway.






We saw comb jellies at this beach when we went back a little later in the day–they’re so cool! Photos don’t really do justice to how they light up. Oh, and this is one of many beaches appreciated by poets and other high-class people banished to the islands. You can still live a comfortable life here, so they are considered appropriate for banishing nobles to.








After visiting the horses and fishes around Nishinoshima, I headed to the big island of Okinoshima. Among my adventures there was a sea kayaking trip. It wasn’t quite as sunny as when I went scuba diving and there were more waves, but the four of us–a couple fellow JETs, our guide, and myself–got to explore several caves and observe the creatures living in them. That was in addition to all the explanations of unique geological formations the island is known for, but rather than reexplaining them all here myself the official homepage of the Oki Islands Geopark should provide a more useful and enlighting explanation beyond “cool looking rocks! Lava did this!”

Yoroi-iwa, “Armor Rock”

So! On to the kayak tour!

This is at the northern tip of Okinoshima–people don’t live on this little island, but birds nest here, and in seems there used to be customs of swimming to this point for some kind of ritual or festival. Or just to show off your swimming skills, maybe.

Speaking of birds, this guy was part of a nest inside a cave, but he’s still a little clumsy at flying! We watched him fall in the water after a not so graceful flight attempt across the cave, then he swam in front of us for a while before hopping around the rock walls again. His hopping wasn’t very graceful, either. Ah, and the mom and dad birds weren’t so pleased with our visit when they came back later.

This sea slug (or sea hare) wasn’t very thrilled to see us, either. See that purple ink? It’s a last line of defense. Had it have been in the water, you’ve have lost sight of it in a cloud.

Now if we were lobsters, this stuff would gotten all over our scent receptors and made it difficult for us to smell the tasty sea slug. Cool, huh?

We also saw a number of other fish, jellies, barnicles, crabs, and even caught some good glimpses of sazae–turban shells, a local specialty both on the shores of the Oki Islands and the shores of the mainland.

Click for source. Not one of my favorites, but I tolerate them in some dishes like sazae curry or sazae rice.

See look, no sight of sazae! Just harmless little bite-sized pieces.

I much prefer the other local specialty that we saw plenty of, though I’ve only tried kame-no-te (“turtle hands”) once in soup form.

Click for source. Not actually related to turtles, these things grow in groups like barnicles.

Alas, I did not have any more kame-no-te on this trip, but in addition to squid (a major part of local industry) and an assortment of very fresh sashimi, I also tried oysters for the first time in recollection. Although they do serve them raw, right after we got the suggestion for the daily special from our sea kayaking guide, I opted for fried oysters (kaki, not to be confused with persimmons) in curry. Apparently curry style is the best way to serve something one is unfamiliar with, but I’ll stick with normal curry in everyday life, thanks.

That’s a lot of oyster. I prefer shijimi clams, though…

Next time, let’s just stick to some light sight-seeing.

Besides the iconic rock formations and 257 meter Matengai cliff, Kuniga Coast on the northwest side of the northwestern island of Nishinoshima is also famous for semi-wild horses and cows.

Nishinoshima has a human population of about 3,600, and a horse population of about 50, and a higher bovine population than 50. Having seen so many photos of the coastline and horses, this is what really brought me to Nishinoshima. While I was enjoying the hike along the coast for a while and energized by the beautiful scenery, I was just a little disappointed that I didn’t see any horses in the area. They’re free to roam, so you’re not certain to find them in the typical photogenic spots–though it’s clear they roamed there, so watch your step.

It was when I was nearing Matengai Cliff that I finally spotted a few horses and circle of cows. Yay!

If you continue hiking back around from Matengai instead of stopping there, you get you a fork in the road (one leading back to the start of the course along the coast, the other down to Urago Port). From this point you can see two coasts, and this is where the rest of the horses were hanging out. Yaaaay! So for your viewing pleasure, here are some more horse photos.








Back to sea adventures next time!

A couple weeks ago, I took a wonderful little vacation to the Oki Islands, which were added to the Global Network of National Geoparks last year. Even taking the slow (and cheap) ferry, you can get there from Matsue or Sakaiminato within hours, yet I had not done so until now.

Me? Reusing an old map? Never.

Even for technically being the rainy season, I had perfect timing–despite being the rainy season it didn’t rain during my trip, and since the official swimming season is July-August, my friends I didn’t run into much competition for beach space. Then again, this is Oki–there is always another beach and never the number of tourists you’d find elsewhere.

Besides enjoying the unique sights of the Geopark and the islands’ history, I made sure to go out and do summery things I don’t typically venture to do in daily life. Despite living so close to so many beaches, my bathing suit has had zero use the whole time I’ve lived here. That had to be amended! So I fixed it right away with my first scuba diving experience.

Ready to go! The water at Sotohama Beach was clear, and the sand has a lot of iron, so the beach looks pretty black.

When you arrive at Beppu Port on Nishinoshima Island, the Nishinoshima Tourism Association is directly across from the port, and they have everything you need to guide yourself around and book excursions and workshops for you (thanks, Nicola!). While I was there I sort of decided at random to do some scuba diving with Club Noah the following morning. I was a little bit nervous, but the weather was sunny and windless, the 2~3 hour class was designed for beginners, and I’d have a professional with me to make sure I wouldn’t die in a freak low-speed collision with a rock in 2 feet of water. Perfectly safe, right?

Yeah, perfectly safe. But the first breath underwater was so scary I stood straight up out of the water as if on reflex. Never fear, the guys at Club Noah are used to dealing with people who are sort of freaked out by the thought of deep breaths while you’re surrounded by water. Aided by cheerfulness and patience, I got used to the whole breathing thing, and then we could actually swim around.

It was very shallow water and we only got as far as three meters deep, but there was still a lot to see there. Perhaps we could have gone further if I had been less chicken and more true to my name from the start–just as I was really absorbed in the dive and having a lot of fun and no longer so conscious of breathing, it was time to head back to shore. At least what I saw was pretty!

Goby!

This was a bouncy one that was safe to touch. Gently, of course!

This type of sea slug is called “umiushi” in Japanese–“sea cow.”

We saw rainbowfish that looked more rainbow-y, but this is the one we got a picture of.

No sea horses… but there were lots and lots of horses on Nishinoshima. Next time!