Y is for Yamasachihiko

Published April 29, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


Well, thanks to me being a complete and utter moron and totally misreading the information about the Aztec thing I was going to use today, I instead finally found a Japanese mythic figure who wasn’t in any MegaTen games, and was good for a few comparisons.

Yamasachihiko is known by many names:  Hikohohodemi no Mikoto, Hohodemi, and Hoori no Mikoto as well as Yamasachihiko…and, actually, it looks like there are even more variations than that.  (His story is a very old one, dating back to the eighth century texts the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki.)  I’m going with Yamasachihiko because it’s the end of April and I needed a “Y” post, of course!  Yamasachihiko means “prince of the mountain of fortune,” apparently.  (I know “yama” means mountain, but…well, one can’t really learn very much Japanese just by watching subtitled anime…)

So, Yamasachihiko was the grandson of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, and he was also a skilled hunter, though one of the sources I saw attributed at least part of his success to magic arrows.  He had a brother named Umisachihiko (which I suppose means “prince of the sea of fortune”?) or Hodori, who was just as skilled a fisherman as Yamasachihiko was a hunter, and who treasured his special — or magical — fishhook.

Well, one day Yamasachihiko wanted to try his hand at fishing, so he suggested to Umisachihiko that they could trade tools and see what the other’s lifestyle was like.  Umisachihiko was reluctant, but eventually agreed to it, and he loaned Yamasachihiko his fishhook, while accepting the loan of the other’s bow and arrows.

Excited by the new challenge, Yamasachihiko sat down at the edge of the sea and began fishing.

Or trying to fish, anyway.  It wasn’t really working out for him at all.

But then, at the end of the day, a huge fish bit down on the hook.  Yamasachihiko did his best to bring it in, but he didn’t really know how, when it came right down to it, and so the fish got away.

Worst of all, it got away with the hook, too.

Yamasachihiko went to his brother and explained what happened, and promised he’d make Umisachihiko a thousand new fishhooks — using his own precious sword as materials! — but Umisachihiko refused:  he had to have that fishhook.

There was nothing else to do.  Yamasachihiko walked into the sea and started searching the bottom of the sea, looking for the missing fishhook.  (As the grandson of such a powerful goddess, breathing water was no problem for him.)  But he couldn’t find it anywhere.

Eventually, he ended up at the palace of Ryujin, the god who ruled the sea.  Ryujin gave him a place to stay while the search for the fishhook continued.  While he was staying in that palace, Yamasachihiko quickly found himself falling in love with Toyotama-hime (or Otohime), the daughter of Ryujin, and soon enough the two were wed.

The search for Umisachihiko’s missing fishhook took three years, but eventually it was found in the belly of a gigantic fish.  By that time, Yamasachihiko was quite homesick for the surface world, so he and his new wife went back to the land, and he was finally able to return his brother’s fishhook, winning his forgiveness as well.

However, Toyotama-hime was pregnant, and soon it was time for her to give birth.  As she was heading into her chambers to give birth, she looked at her husband and told him that he must not, under any account, look inside while she was giving birth.  Because, of course, an underwater god like Ryujin didn’t have a human form naturally — though he had put one on for his guest’s sake — and the same went for his daughter.  But she was ashamed to think of her husband seeing what she truly looked like, and so she begged him to stay away while she was forced back into her real form.

But, being a man, Yamasachihiko could not bring himself to obey her command.

He had to know what she really looked like.  He just had to!

And so Yamasachihiko peeked into the room where Toyotama-hime was giving birth, and was horrified to see her true form, which was a bit like what you and I might call a “sea serpent.”

Broken-hearted at her husband’s betrayal — and embarrassed beyond belief! — Toyotama-hime fled back to the bottom of the sea to her father’s palace.

Ashamed at his own behavior, Yamasachihiko did his best to raise his son, never holding it against him that he was half sea-monster.

Eventually, that son grew up to marry his mother’s sister, and became the father of Jimmu, the first Emperor.

Obviously, this story is rather folkloric:  I suspect that the 8th century texts do not contain this version of the tale.

To start at the beginning, he’s a super-talented archer, possibly with magic arrows.  That calls up all sorts of comparisons:  Apollo is also an archer (and connected to the sun in that later Roman myths fused him with Helios) and his arrows have the power to cause illness, and Philoctetes has the Bow of Heracles, which never misses.  And, of course, there are powerful archers (sometimes with magical bows or arrows) in many (if not most) cultures, but I’m really running out of steam here, so I’ve become too lazy to look any of them up.  (Next year, I am totally picking an easier topic for April A-to-Z!)

I can’t, off-hand, think of other stories like this where the hero has to go retrieve something (like his brother’s fishhook) that he’s borrowed and lost, but it feels very familiar, so if I was not so mentally exhausted, I’d probably be able to come up with some.

When we get to Toyotama-hime giving him instructions not to look, whatever he does, then we get into much more easily identified familiar territory!  This is a very common folkloric device, one of the main ways that an enchanted/faerie/what-have-you spouse is unintentionally driven off.  (Similar to what I was discussing in terms of Qat’s wife…)  The example that really leaps to mind is Melusine, though that was actually fairly different.  (Well, depending which version of the story you’re looking at:  the earlier version casts her as a devil, whereas the later version, cooked up by one of the families most strongly considered her descendants, depicted her as more of a mermaid.  That was when it became more like this story.)  The “whatever you do, don’t open that door” or “whatever you do, don’t look” motif has two aspects:  there’s this type, where the cost of looking is to lose something wonderful that you cherished, but then there’s the other type, where the cost of looking is to risk your life, and what you lose (if not your life) is actually something rather awful.  (“Bluebeard” is a prime example of the latter type.)

One last thing:  the bit about Yamasachihiko’s son marrying his own aunt.  Uncle/niece marriages are common enough in mythology, but nephew/aunt marriages are much more rare.  I can only think of one other off the top of my head, and it’s not even the dominant variant of the myth:  in some versions of the Oedipus tale, Jocasta (or Epicasta) dies soon after marrying Oedipus, and so he gets re-married to her sister, and it’s with her that he has his children (or sometimes to a third wife, who was presumably not related to him, and/or his age or younger).

Okay…one more day to go.  I can do this.  I can do this…but I’m gonna be glad when it’s over.  I need the break.

Oh, btw, just a reminder:  tomorrow is Independent Bookstore Day!  It’s a US event, officially, and only at about 400 stores that have signed up for it, but (obviously) everyone can go to their local independent bookstore to celebrate the joys of the small, local bookstore, regardless of whether or not it’s an official participant.  So if you’ve got a local bookstore, go and share the love, okay?

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