yakushima tales

Yakushima Myths & Tales

KappaThe setting for Miyazaki’s animation Princess Mononoke was inspired by the natural scenes found on Yakushima.  However, the inspiration for Princess Mononoke doesn’t just stop there as the island is abundant with wonderful myths, tales and fables relating to the spirits and gods that inhabit the mountains and trees.  Some of these tales could quite easily have been included in the Mononoke story.

A Warning from the Trees

Men from Miyanoura stood by a tree discussing the use they would make of the lumber once the tree was cut down.  While talking they suddenly heard from the tree the noise of a saw cutting through the tree and then the crashing sound of it falling.  The men ran back to the village and warned people that the trees spirit had told them not to cut down trees unnecessarily.  This warning did not have too much of an affect as the trees continued to be cut down, anyway.

Typhoon Early Warning

A cave near to Tachudake (太忠岳 – you can access Tachudake from Yakusugi Land) is said to reverberate with the sound of a conch 3 days before a typhoon arrives on the island.

The White Deer

A ruling lord on Tanegashima was forcing a new school of Buddhism upon the locals (Nichiren).  The mountains gods were angered and the island rumbled with tremors and was hit by plagues.  The high priest, Nichizo Shonin, sent a priest of the new school into the mountains with an amulet to appease the gods, but the amulet was picked up by the wind and thrown back down to the village.  The incident occurred again when a second priest attempted to appease the gods.  Finally, Nichizo Shonin went himself and spent 7 days chanting sutras.  He took the amulet to a mountain shrine and suddenly a white deer appeared and bowed to the high priest.  Thereafter, the tremors and the plagues ceased.  The village of Nagata is a good example of the division caused by the introduction of new forms of Buddhism.  Nagata is divided by a river and on one side of the village it was predominantly Nichiren and upon the other it was predominantly Tendai (an older school of Buddhism).  During the early years of Nichiren Buddhism they were often suppressed by the more established Tendai sect. 

The White Deer mentioned in this story and Tomori Jochiku (mentioned in a story below) also re-appear in a defining moment during Yakushima`s history.  Both of these characters have a subtle role to play in the context of Princess Mononoke.

Blood-sucking Sprite

A tree sprite in the guise of a beautiful woman would appear in the forests and smile.  Should the person encountering the sprite not smile before her then she would suck blood from the neck of the surprised local.  The sprite was particularly busy at New Year and on the festival days of the mountain gods.  On these days the locals would avoid going into the woods and mountains.  Even to this day it is considered unlucky to enter the forest and mountains at New Year.

And our favourite tale….

Fishermen found a jar containing a letter.  They brought the letter to Tomari Jochiku and he announced that the letter came from a water sprite.  The letter read: Extract the insides of a thousand people through their anuses, salt them, and send them in this jar.  Tomari Jochiku got straight down to his super-hero work and wrote a sutra on a large rock in the Anbo River.  So powerful and convincing was the sutra that since he wrote the sutra (400 years ago) no one in Anbo has ever died by encountering a sadistic water sprite and having their stomach wrenched through their anus and then salted.  Thank you Tomari san!

And thank you to the Diagram Yakushima guide book for publishing these tales.