Continued from Part 2




Recall who Kotoshironushi is here.

Recall the Cape of Miho here.

The Hii River has shown up in many legends, as it was home to the Yamata-no-Orochi and a love-struck crockasharkagator swam up it. Back then, it fed out into the ocean, but after centuries of land reform and water control, this part of the Hii River is now Lake Shinji, the Ohashi River, Lake Nakaumi, and Miho Bay.



It was actually much more complicated than that. Kojiki scholars have spent a lot of time on this passage.



Continued in Part 4

Continued from Part 1








In the Kojiki canon, he was lounging on his couch when it fell back and hit him. Also, his brother-in-law bore an uncanny resemblance to him, so when he showed up to pay his respects the mourners mistook him for Amawakahiko. It mad him so angry to be mistaken for a dead person that he tore down the funeral hut in rage.


Continued in Part 3


For those of you just joining on these Kojiki comics, Okuninushi (formerly known as Onamuji) has been the main character of this story, this story, and this story. He’s kind of a big deal.


Amaterasu is referencing Izanagi and Izanami, who together created the lands of Japan.






Amewakahiko had a wife and children in the heavens already, FYI.

Continued in Part 2

(Note: This article was also published on the official Shimane tourism website, Shimane: Explore Unfamiliar Japan. All photos were used with permission.)

As much as I have always loved clear mountain streams, green forests, and fresh air, I never thought I had much of an interest in straw. The bright green rice paddies this time of year are charming and Shimane’s rice is delicious, but their dried remains? Although I expected to enjoy the nature, cuisine, and onsen of Iinan-cho, I was taken by surprise by how fascinating long strands of dried rice plants can be. Granted, the 16 meter shimenawa at the Kagura-den of Izumo Taisha has always been my favorite part of the shrine, so perhaps I should have taken an interest sooner in the amazing things that can be done with simple materials.


We started our visit to Ohshimenawa Sousakukan, where the shimenawa at Izumo Taisha is constructed, by making small shimenawa charms to take home. In my daily life I mostly do computer related work or create two-dimensional art, so it was a step outside of my usual activities which required me to pour my energy into a material I had always overlooked.

Even more engaging was when we all worked together to weave a giant shimenawa destined for a shrine in Hiroshima. I literally felt the full weight of the amount of work that the artisans there had already poured into assembling so many individual straws! I may have broken a sweat twisting the ropes (which I could barely fit my arms around), and carrying them back and forth as we wove them together and it took shape. The hard labor made the finished product all the more satisfying. It was one of the most unique and memorable experiences I have had in Japan yet.


The little shimenawa I was so proud of is now hanging in my room, a reminder to step away from my digital life, breathe fresh air, and note the wonder in simple things.

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.

One day, a friend asked me to go to Manai Shrine and Rokusho Shrine with her.

What? I thought. Usually I’m the one asking people to drive me out into the countryside hunting for mythological shrines.

Naturally, I agreed, as these two have been on my visit list since I wrote that first Kojiki manga about Izanagi and Izanagi. Manai Shrine is up a long flight of stone steps and quietly hidden away against a mountain, which made it strike me as a counterpart shrine to Kamosu Shrine, which is dedicated to Izanami and located in the same general area. Rokusho Shrine was located directly next to the local Izumo government offices back in the Heian period, so it was used as an organizational base for all the shrines in the area.

All three of them have the same crest, the character 有 (ari, “to have”) inside of a tortoise shell. The tortoise represents longetivity and is therefore lucky, while 有 is made up of the characters 十 (“ten”) and 月 (“month/moon”), which, when paired together as 十月 mean “October” (or at least, they referred to the 10th month of the agricultural calendar beforehand, but that’s been a mess since the Gregorian switch). Of course, the 10th month is special here in the Izumo region. While it is traditionally referred to as Kannazuki (“the month without gods,” written 神無月 (gods-nothing-month)), only here is it referred to as Kamiarizuki (“the month with gods,” written 神在月 (gods-exist-month), but can also be written as 神有月–there’s that 有 again!). This is because the 8 million gods from around Japan congregate at Izumo Taisha during that time.


Back in the old days…

We visited Manai first, and found it quiet and sparse, in a refined sort of way.



Rokusho turned out a bit more interesting, as we found the remains of some recent festival. “Nan darou…” we both trailed off many times as we noticed things around the shrine, the straw weavings and the gohei (paper streamerson small sticks) left around the trees. “Nan darou… I wonder what this is…?” We found other little things, such as a handwashing font partially hidden under the trees at a back entrance, a boat possibly for use on the nearby Iu River, and a basketball hoop. “Nan darou…”




What really brought my friend out to those southern hills and valley at the outskirts of Matsue was not the shrines so much as the Manai Waterfall, which the nearby shrine was named after, and is said to be holy water with healing properties. It is about three meters high, and nestled away up into the hill, and we made a few rounds around the neighborhood following a handful of different maps trying to find it. “Doko darou… where could it be…” we said over and over.

We asked directions from an old lady taking a break from her gardening who answered us in very thick Izumo dialect, and later on we asked directions from an old man with a dialect almost as thick. He was cheerful and helpful, but trying to be those things sometimes comes off as discouraging. “You’ll see that sign for the soumen shop, and it’ll be right up behind it, you can’t miss it! But nobody’s used it for years, they don’t make nagashi-soumen there anymore. Nobody bothers with the waterfall anymore. It’s nothing much. But yeah, there’s a parking lot, and you’ll find the waterfall right there! It’s too bad about the soumen…”

Little did we inner-city dwellers know about this supposedly famous nagashi-soumen (soumen is a type of thin, white noodle, and when served nagashi-soumen style it slides with water down a bamboo shoot and you try to catch it as it goes by–a popular thing to do in summer). I saw one big sign for it by the road as we passed around the tiny neighborhood and the hill a few times, but mistakenly thought it was referring to the building it was fixed to instead of to the little abandoned stall we found by the other sign the old man told us to look for.



The view from the parking lot

As soon as we stepped out of the car, we heard the sound of water, and found its source much sooner than we expected. Filled though the neglected pond was with fallen leaves, the water was perfectly clear.

“Maybe we should wash our hands with it?”
“A rinse couldn’t hurt.”
“You think it’s safe to drink? Dou darou… I wonder…”
Dou darou… maybe fill your water bottle and then take it home and boil it?”
“Ah, good idea.”
“What will you do with it?”
Nan darou…
“I wonder if it works. Dou darou…
Dou darou…

I took a look around the forested area and noticed this little sight next to the pond.

“Hey, it’s an Inari statue… hhm, the head’s fallen off. That’s unsettling.”
Nan darou…”
Nan darou…”

And then we found another by a tree behind us.

Nan darou…”
Nan darou ne…”

Beyond the tree, there was a little blocked off clearing of mysteriously placed rocks, and the carved ones were not legible.

“I wonder why we can’t go here?”
“I wonder if there’s something buried.”
“I wonder what it says.”
Nan darou…”
Nan darou…”

Neither of were particularly wary, merely curious. We stood and looked up at the branches and fresh spring leaves high above us, rustling in the wind on that cloudy April afternoon. The light and sounds were different in that space from the sleepy neighborhood and rice fields below, the forgotten gathering spot for catching noodles sliding down the supposedly holy water.

“Hmm.”
“Hmmmm.”
“That’s pleasant.”
“Yeah.”
“I’m glad we found it.”
“Yeah, me too.”

We went on trading our darou‘s throughout the rest of that shrine hopping afternoon in the southern stretches of Matsue, and the heart of where the Izumo region used to be ruled from.

Although the tale of Kaka-no-Kukedo, the birthplace of the primary deity of Sada Shrine, is a more riveting tale, I included another Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki legend in this story. The Fudoki (like 8th century encyclopedias of Japan) in part set out to determine names for all the major geographical features of the country, which included assigning fortuitous kanji (Chinese written characters) for them. Quite often, the names they chose required some mythological background.

This is case, a village derived its name from a little bird.

Read about this bird’s role in Japanese culture here.

The Cettia diphone, clumsily translated as the Japanese Bush Warbler or Japanese nightingale, is simpler to refer to as the known here as uguisu (鶯). In ancient times, it used to be called a houki-dori, a Houki bird (法吉鳥). The legend states that Umugi-hime (sometimes known as Umuka-hime while her sister Kisagai-hime is sometimes known as Kisaka-hime) changed into a Houki bird’s form and flew to that place. Hence, it was called Houki Village (法吉郷).

Years later, the written characters remained, but their pronunciation changed to Hokki. This district of Matsue remainds under that name, and also retains an uguisu as its symbol.

There is, of course, a shrine dedicated to Umugi-hime, though it has changed locations from Uguisu Valley to a spot with a better vantage point. Seeing as she and her sister made their big appearance in the Kojiki when they answered Onamuji’s mother’s pleas and healed his burns and brought him back to life, it is a shrine popularly associated with mothers’ love.




Nearby, there is a pond called Takido. It is said to have salt water because it is connected to the sea, and because many fish get lost there, you can catch quite the haul. Specifically, it is said to be connected to Kaka-no-Kukedo, but given the distance, I can’t help but find this a bit fishy.

Despite the self-proclaimed connection to uguisu (and for that matter, saltwater fish?), the area is probably better known for a good firefly viewing spot in summer.

Back when I found out I was going to live in Matsue, I read eight of Lafcadio Hearn‘s books in the span of a month to know about the city as he observed it back in the Meiji period. Eight books was a bit excessive. However, this passage from “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan” (available for free here on the Gutenberg Project) stuck out and stuck with me:

But of all places, Kaka-ura! Assuredly I must go to Kaka. Few pilgrims go thither by sea, and boatmen are forbidden to go there if there be even wind enough ‘to move three hairs.’ So that whosoever wishes to visit Kaka must either wait for a period of dead calm—very rare upon the coast of the Japanese Sea—or journey thereunto by land; and by land the way is difficult and wearisome. But I must see Kaka. For at Kaka, in a great cavern by the sea, there is a famous Jizo of stone; and each night, it is said, the ghosts of little children climb to the high cavern and pile up before the statue small heaps of pebbles; and every morning, in the soft sand, there may be seen the fresh prints of tiny naked feet, the feet of the infant ghosts. It is also said that in the cavern there is a rock out of which comes a stream of milk, as from a woman’s breast; and the white stream flows for ever, and the phantom children drink of it. Pilgrims bring with them gifts of small straw sandals—the zori that children wear—and leave them before the cavern, that the feet of the little ghosts may not be wounded by the sharp rocks. And the pilgrim treads with caution, lest he should overturn any of the many heaps of stones; for if this be done the children cry.
(Lafcadio Hearn, 1894)

There are two famous caves in Kaka-no-Kukedo, the caves of Kaka. The more broadly advertised one is the “Shin-Kukedo” (“new cave,” or a pun on “cave of the god”), which is where the legend of Sada-no-Okami’s birth took place. The less advertised but nonetheless very well know cave is the “Kyu-Kudedo” (“old cave”), as Hearn described. Today, it is still almost exactly as Hearn described. He is one of many writers who have been attracted to these caves.

This description left such an impression on me that as soon as I heard it still existed, I made it my goal to take the boat tour out to see it. The 50-minute tour runs eight times a day March through November, however, just as in Hearn’s day, it can easily be cancelled if it’s too windy. Going far out to sea, or trying to navigate through the cave, is difficult in rough waters.

I had to try a lot longer than Hearn did to finally make this trip.

Every time I’d make plans with my friends, something would fall through. Either we didn’t plan in time to make it before the end of the season, or there was suddenly pouring rain the day we decided to go, or someone would suddenly fall ill. A few friends who had originally volunteered to go later admitted that they were afraid to go because they might see a ghost there. With so many things out of my control keeping me from getting there, it was tempting to think that maybe it really was haunted.

At last, towards the end of last year’s season, the tour finally (barely) worked out! Sort of… the waves were too high to do the full tour, so we had a slight discount. I was not going to let that chance slip me by, though, so I did the partial tour.

It departs from Marine Plaza in northern Matsue, near an active fishing port and a popular camping island called Katsurajima.

The first stop is the old cave, where the spirits of departed children are said to be hard at work. The boat stops a little ways away, and those who wish to see it can go down a long tunnel with alcoves filled with Jizo statues (at which, the tour operators leave incense while passengers are look around), and then walk around the cave. Jizo is a Buddha of mercy often thought of as a patron of children.

The waves only reach so far inside, and the cave goes fairly deep, beyond where the light can reach. As far as my eyes could make out, the countless little towers of rocks and Jizo statues and offerings went as far back as there was space to put them. A bat flapped around towards the interior parts of cave, and all was quiet.

For as many tries as it had taken me to observe this place, there were many, many grieving parents from who knows how far who had come here to leave a gift for their child, and perhaps construct a tower of rocks to spare them a bit of labor. Among the Jizo statues, there were recent, old, and likely many decades worth of perserved silk flowers, origami cranes, juice boxes and bottles of tea and cans of soda, shoes, toys, and other personal belongings. Although I can see why others would see it that way, I did not find this place creepy. However, there was a weight of sadness and sympathy coupled with a curious wonder at how far these parents had come out of their way to give their children whatever comfort they could.

After that, we went back through the tunnel and to the boat to continue on to a place of new life. Recorded in the 8th century Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki as the birthplace of Sada-no-Okami, primary deity at the influential Sada Shrine, it is only accessible by boat.

However, if the waves are too high, it’s not accessible at all. I had to settle for seeing the outside and imagining the supposedly wonderous view of light from the inside. It seems the best time of year to go is during a short period of time in midsummer when there are special sunrise tours to see the sun rise through the view of the hole. I guess it’s hard to say I did the tour when I only got to see the cave from outside. And apparently this year they’ve started offering an 80-minute tour of several other caves in the area, too! Maybe if I had just been a little more patient…

But hey, watching the waves crash against the rocks was neat and all.


I even got a good view of Mato-jima, the “target island” Baby Sada practiced his archery on!

And riding the waves out there was fun!

While this is the main stage of this legend, there is a spot further inland that I’ll introduce next time.

Continued from Part 1





This is not a joke I made up. It states in the legend that the wrong bow came back first, yet no one seems to find this odd after her brazen declaration.








That is a joke referencing a popular deity in Amaterasu’s story whom I have not introduced in my comics.

That concludes the Fudoki specials! The next story, cutting back to the Kojiki plot, will be the final one in this series.

Learn about the sites associated with this legend!
The marine caves of Kaka-no-Kukedo
Hokki Shrine
Sada Shrine: The basics
Sada Shrine architecture
Sada Shin Noh, UNESCO Intangible World Heritage at Sada Shrine

Or start reading the next story!
Amaterasu demands that Okuninushi give up his 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

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). This is the legend of a spot in northern Matsue, along the coast of the Sea of Japan.


Recall how they rescued crispy Onamuji.










To be continued…