Japanese Legend and Haiku

This week I will share with you another story from the collection Legends of Japan, as retold by Hiroshi Naito, called “The Hunter’s Trick.”

The Hunter’s Trick

Long, long ago, in the province of Mimasaka (Okayama Prefecture), there was a small Shinto shrine called Takano Jinja. It was dedicated to Monkey and Serpent. Every year the shrine celebrated a festival, and it was the customary practice to offer a human sacrifice to the deities on the occasion of the festival. This custom had been practiced continuously from time immemorial. The sacrifice was a pretty girl chosen from among the daughters of the people living in the province. Therefore, as the festival came near, the parents of all daughters became restless, wondering who should be the victim of the year.

One year, a sixteen- year- old girl was chosen as a sacrifice. She was the only daughter of an old couple, who loved her so dearly that they wept bitterly over their hapless fate. From the day of selection the daughter and her parents bewailed their ill fortune day and night, numbering the decreasing days of their union at home. It was the practice that the chosen girl be fed attentively until the time of feasting.

One day an “Inuyama” hunter visited this province. The Inuyama was a brave hunter who used a pack of hounds in hunting wild boars and deer in the mountains.

This hunter became very sympathetic with the sorrowful family and offered them his help. He said he would be glad to take her place in the festival, and told them to hang sacred festoons about the house and to keep themselves away from the villagers. Then he selected two strong hounds from among his dogs and trained them to fight monkeys. He also sharpened his sword for a fight.

The day of the feasting came around at last, and the shrine priests and the villagers came to take the girl to the shrine. They had a big wooden chest to contain the sacrifice. Taking the place of the girl, however, the hunter, who was wearing her kimono and carrying a sword, secretly hid himself in the chest. He also had the two hounds hidden in it. The girl’s parents, as planned, pretended to wail over their sad farewell to the departing chest, so no one imagined that the box contained the hunter and his dogs. The villagers unwittingly carried the chest to the shrine at the foot of the sacred mountain.

Meanwhile, the old couple and their daughter at home were uneasy, thinking that should the deities find the sacrifice to be the wrong person, they would punish the whole family.

Image via u1.ipernity.com

The villagers carrying the chest soon reached the shrine, where they solemnly held a rite to offer the sacrifice to the deities. Then they opened the old door of the shrine, put in the chest, and closed the door. And in front of the shrine they waited attentively to see what would happen to the chest.

When left behind in the shrine, the hunter opened the cover of the chest slightly and looked out. And lo! Right in front of an altar was seated a big monkey about seven feet tall. The animal looked very happy with the human sacrifice. On each side of him were about fifty small monkeys, who cried something in their language. A big chopping board and a big knife were placed before the boss monkey, who would cut the sacrifice and eat it.

When the boss monkey stood up laboriously and tried to open the chest, the hunter sent out the hounds to battle with the monkeys and he himself jumped out with his sword. The hounds attacked the big monkey furiously and bit him. The boss monkey received many wounds and fell down there. Then the hunter dragged him up to the chopping board and said: “As you ate many girls, I will kill you as punishment and let my dogs eat you up. Now, prepare for death!”

The boss monkey cried for help, with his hands clasped before his eyes, and apologized, “Pleast forgive what I have done. I promise you I will never eat people again. So please spare my life!”

“Shut up!” the hunter cried, and tried to kill him. Meanwhile the two hounds killed some small monkeys and the other monkeys ran for their lives.

While the priests and villagers were anxiously waiting, the chief priest suddenly started running about wildly as if he had gone mad. Then he said solemnly, “Listen, you all! I am deity of the shrine. I do not want sacrifices any more. Today I have decided to stop eating girls. Now I have been caught by a hunter who will kill me. So, help me.” So saying, the priest fainted away.

“The deity must have entered into the priest!” the villagers cried, and ran into the shrine, where they found the hunter ready to kill the big monkey. They told him of the divine message and asked him to forgive the animal, but the hunter would not meet their request, saying that the monkey must pay dearly for what he had done.

“Through the mouth of the priest, I have said I will never eat people again. So, please do not kill me,” the big monkey entreated. Whereupon the hunter reluctantly freed the monkey, which ran away into the mountain.

It is said that the hunter later married the sacrificial girl and lived a happy life with her.

Image via ecx.images-amazon.com

Now I would like to introduce my new book, Chiyo-ni; Woman Haiku Master, by Patricia Donegan and Yoshie Ishibashi. Chiyo-ni lived 1703 to 1775 and is “Japan’s most famous woman haiku poet,” according to this book, and is most widely known in Japan for this “morning glory haiku”:


morning glory-

the well-bucket entangled

I ask for water


This book contains over 100 of her haiku.

Here are two more (from the “spring” section of this book, appropriately)


galloping horses also

smell their legs-

the wild violets


(it is noted that as horses trample fields, the smell of violets gets on their legs)


I forget

to remember the days-

yet these spring deer

Image via img.ehowcdn.com

(this one from her “later years,” the authors note that she is feeling in contrast to the young deer, but “appreciates the moment.”)

What do you think?

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