Sacred-texts  Shinto 



translated by Arthur Waley

Botteghe Oscure, Rome, 1951, pp. 214-236.

My foster-brother and foster-sister--
They it was who brought me up,
And so we lived.
In a castle magically built--
There I grew up.
There was a great pile of treasure
That rose like a cliff, and on top
Lay hand-guards in twos and threes,
Fit for the sword of a chieftain,
And when in twos and threes
Their tassels swayed,
There was a bright gleam on the wall,
So beautiful, so lovely!
In front of the treasure-stand,
On a seat of my own,
On my high seat I grew up.
And by it, to the left,
Was my white-wood bed, so marvellous
In the beauty of its shape.
Who was first reared in it
That it should have been made so lovely?
I did not know, but my thoughts
Were full of wonder.
And all this time
On my high seat I did nothing
But carve patterns upon treasures,
Figures upon sword-sheaths.
That was what I was bent on--
On that and nothing else.
Now it happened at this time
Some stray talk reached me
By roundabout ways
That at the mouth of the Ishkar
A golden sea-otter
Was diving for its food,
And that the Man of Ishkar
To near villages
Had sent news flying,
To far off villages.
News had been brought,
And this was what it said:
To whoever can dive into the sea
And bring back the Golden Otter
I will give my sister,
And all the treasure that is mine
Tied up in one bundle
Shall go with her as her dowry!
And because it was so,
From near villages and far villages
The chieftains have come crowding
To the River-Mouth of Ishkar,
And there they had set up
A great row of booths.
It was news of this,
Some stray talk of it,
That reached my ears
And one day I heard my sister's voice--
The lovely ring of her voice,
And this was what she was saying:
‘Come now, you heroes that I tend,
Be sure that you pay no heed
To tales such as this.
It is a thing that happened long ago,
And now at the ebb of time
Has happened again;
No more and no less.’
And while my sister spoke
She fretted and fidgeted,
Moving her legs this way and that.
All this troubled me
When I turned it over in my mind.
But still, I carved my treasures,
Graved patterns on my sword
And so, I passed my time.


There came a night
When I could not get to sleep,
The god that lives under beds
Prodded me from below;
The god that lives in the beams
Stared at me from above,
Prodded and stared so hard
That as I lay on my bed
I tossed this way and that.
Why was I like this?
I could not make it out.
My brother and sister on their pillows
Were snoring loud,
Snoring both together.
Suddenly, there on my bed,
I stretched myself, and at one bound
I was up on my feet.
I went to the treasure-pile,
I fumbled about in it
And pulled out a basket,
A basket finely lacquered,
The cords that bound it
One after another I untied;
I tilted off the cover.
I plunged my hand into the basket;
An embroidered coat,
A graven belt-sword,
A belt clasped with gold,
A little golden helmet--
All of them together
I tumbled out.
The embroidered coat
I thrust myself into,
The golden clasped belt
I wound about me.
The cords of the little helmet.
I tied for myself,
So that it sat firm on my head.
The graven sword
I thrust through my belt.
And though I tell it of myself,
I looked splendid as a god,
Splendid as a great god
Returning in glory.
And there upon the mat,
Though I had never seen them,
I copied deeds of battle, deeds of war,
Spreading my shoulders, whirling round and round.
Then I went out at the door,
And saw what in all my life
Never once yet I had seen--
What it was like outside my home,
Outside the house where I was reared.
So this was our Castle!
Never could I have guessed
How beautiful it was.
The fencing done long ago
Standing so crooked;
The new fencing
So high and straight.
The old fencing like a black cloud,
The new fencing like a white cloud.
They stretched around the castle
Like a great mass of cloud--
So pleasant, so lovely!
The crossbars laid on top
Zigzagged as the fence ran.
The stakes below--
Were swallowed deep in the earth.
In the tie-holes below
Rats had made their nest.
In the tie-holes above
Little birds had made their nest;
Here and there, with spaces between,
The holes were patches of black.
And when the wind blew into them
There was a lovely music
Like the voices of small birds.
Across the hillside, across the shore
Many zigzag paths
Elbowed their way.
The marks of digging-sticks far off
Showed faintly black;
The marks of sickles far off
Showed faintly white.
The ways went pleasantly;
They were beautiful, they were lovely.
The way down to the shore,
The hollow of the way,
I followed down, when suddenly
Some god possessed me and from the ground I trod
A wind carried me high into the air;
High above the path to seaward.
And brought me to a harbour,
Close to a harbour on the shore.
And coming from the sea
A pleasant breeze blew on me and the face of the sea
Was wrinkled like a reed-mat.
And on it the sea-birds
Tucking their heads under their tails,
Bobbing up their heads from under their tails
Called to one another
With sweet voices across the sea.
Over long stretches of sand
I strode, and as I went
The god that possessed me
Thundered in the sky above,
And swiftly along the shore-way
Hurried me to the village of Ishkar,
Near to Ishkar he carried me.
And the castle of Ishkar,
How beautifully it was built!
And under the white foam of the waves
(What they had said was true)
The golden sea-otter
Suddenly, like the glint of a sword,
Flashed above the breakers of the sea.
And there in the shore-road,
In the middle of the wide road
Was a watch-tower marvellously built
With a ladder leading up to it.
Then in the castle
There was a noise and stir.
Suddenly as when light comes at dawn
A woman came out from the castle.
I thought she would surely be beautiful--
The woman of the story I had heard.
But she had straight hair,
Reddish hair cut short
Half way down her long chin.
With nothing beautiful about her
But the jewels she wore.
It was a hideous woman that came out
And climbed up the ladder,
And sat down in the high tower.
I saw that at the mouth of the Ishkar
Were many booths in a row.
From the first of them came a sound
And an Ainu came out;
But if indeed an Ainu,
More splendid than any I had known.
With a new moon and a full moon
His coat was blazoned,
And his hat with the same.
It was a fine man that came out of the booth.
He held his hands high
And towards the woman on the tower
Many times did homage.
The ugly woman
Laughed in scorn of him,
And thrust out her chin.
I had never seen him before
But who else could he be
Than the young Man of the East?
The golden sea-otter
Glinted like a sword;
Then the suck of the tide
Caught it and pulled it down.
Once to seaward
With outstretched hand
The young man pursued it;
Once to landward
With outstretched hand
The man made after it;
Then fell panting upon the rocks.
The Ugly Woman
Mocking at him
Wagged her long chin.
‘How hateful she is!’, I thought.
Then from a booth at the far end
A sound came
And one stepped out,
Who, though I had never seen him,
I knew to be from Repunshir,
The Man of the Far Island.
He too raised his hands
Towards the woman on the tower
And did homage many times.
The Ugly Woman
Once more turned her face
Towards the harbour, towards the shore
And saw the Man of Repunshir
Going after the golden otter.
Twice he chased it to seaward
With outstretched hand,
Twice to landward with outstretched hand;
Then fell panting upon the rocks.
'I was wrong about him', I thought.
The Ugly woman
mocking at him
Wagged her long chin.
Then from the booth that was in the middle
Of that long row of booths
Again there came a noise
And a man came out,
If man not god one could call him,
For he was clothed from head to foot
In chain of gold,
In magic armour of gold,
So cased and folded
That I wondered he could lift his sword.
But many times more marvellous
Than all his trappings
Was that hero's face.
He raised his hands
And towards the tower
Did homage many times.
And now once again
The golden sea-otter
Sank with the suck of the tide.
Three times to seaward
With outstretched hand
He followed after it.
Three times to landward
With outstretched hand
The man, if man he was,
Chased it before him,
So that I was lost in wonder.
But just as dawn broke
He too, the Man of the Little Island,
Was cast upon the shore.
‘I was wrong about him’, I thought.
The golden sea-otter
Under the foam of the waves
Was sucked in by the tide,
And I in my turn
Plunged into the surf.
Out to the breakers of the open sea.
It slipped from my hand,
But nothing daunted
I dived again like a sea-bird
And with one foot trod upon it.
It looked and saw what I was,
And so far from fearing me
It came up and floated between my arms
Like a water-bird floating.
Then seizing it by the throat
Up into the sky
Like a bird that had grown arms
Up into the sky I soared,
Straight back towards my castle
Swiftly I sped.
And soon, just as it had been,
I saw my home,
The castle of Shinutápka
Standing like a tall bowl,
With the ground-mist half way up it,
Binding it round.
At the beauty of the castle
Great was my wonder.
I was near now; gently I pulled aside
The hanging door-flap.
My foster-brother,
My foster sister
Were snoring loud and long.
All this had been in the night-time,
But now in the castle
Day had opened wide.
I threw down the golden otter
On top of the baskets and trays,
The vessels of sacrifice,
And on my high bed,
The bed made for me
I flung myself down.
I pretended to be asleep,
To be sound asleep on my bed,
As though I had never stirred.
And it seemed to me after a while
That I heard my sister rise from her bed;
There was a sound of fire crackling.
I peeped, and she was there by the stove.
Her head turned towards the things of sacrifice,
The baskets and trays.
She had seen the golden otter;
Her chin thrust towards it,
Then it seemed to me that I heard
My brother get up from his bed.
And my sister put her face near his
And whispered softly to him.
Glancing (my angry sister)
Towards the baskets and trays.
My brother turned that way
And anger blazed on his face;
He set his foot on the fire-rail
And wrenched it out of place.
How could a face so beautiful
Be changed by anger,
Be twisted and hideous in its rage?
I was wondering at this
When from the white-wood bed to the left
A noise came,
And some one moved towards me.
And as I looked at him I thought:
‘Once I believed that my foster-brother
Was in all the wide world
Matchless in beauty, but now
Here is a man that is like a god
Splendid as a great god returning in glory.’
Hardly a shadow of beard
Yet showed on his face.
But his hair hung in tendrils,
Hung in eddies over his shoulders
And in his hair-tips
The light of day was entangled,
Gleaming and glinting
Over the hair of his head
Golden waters seemed to drip.
Who could he be, this Ainu so splendid?
As he came towards the stove
My foster-brother gave a glance
At the baskets and trays of sacrifice.
Then my true brother
(For this was my young brother
the godlike Otópush)
Caught sight of the golden otter,
And anger blazed in his face.
He sat down by the stove
And many rough words he spoke:
‘Who else can it have been,
But he whom we have reared,
That brought the golden otter?
And now that this has been done
In the place where we live
There can be no more peace.
This is something that happened long ago
And now has unburied itself
And come back afresh.
Because of what our little brother
Has seen fit to do for us,
War will come; nothing could be surer.
But those three
Were afraid to speak their minds to me.
I laughed secretly;
I was very much amused.

Those are the first 640 lines of the epic. There are one or two points that obviously need clearing up. To begin with, you will naturally want to know how the poem goes on; for what I have read is no more than a tenth part of it. Naturally the people of Ishkar and their confederates try to recover the golden otter. There are a number of battles, in which the people of Ishkar are unsuccessful. There is a pause in the fighting, and the hero and his allies decide to give a great banquet, with dances and songs to amuse the gods, who have been rather neglected during the fighting. I will read to you the passage that describes the banquet, and the incursion that brought it to an end:

At last there came a time
When my foster-brother
In his ringing voice
Spoke these words:
‘We and the hero whom we rear
Have spent harsh days
In warfare only,
Letting the sacred place of our fathers
Sink into decay.
Let us now therefore
Between this fight and the next
As a rest from battle
Make a brew of sake,
That our gods may look upon us.’
And saying this
To servants indoors,
To servants outdoors
He gave his orders.
Six great sacks
They brought from the store-room
And making sake
Six great tubs
They set beside the benches.
For two days, three days
What the gods delight in--
The smell of sake--
Filled the whole house.
Then all the servants
Set about their tasks;
Wielded their wicker baskets
And those that made prayer sticks
Plied their little knives.
The sound of straining sake,
The sound of scraping prayer-sticks
Blended together,
So sweet, so lovely.
Then came the time
When my foster-brother
Brought in the guests.
And by what I heard
With them was the Man of Iyochi,
He and his sister,
With the Man of Rupetom
And the Man of Shamput--
He too was brought in,
And the Man of Ruwesani.
These chieftains by the hand
Were led into the house.
And as they spoke their greetings
I listened keenly.
None fell short of the rest,
But the Man of Iyochi
In beauty of face,
In boldness of heart,
And in his choice of words
Was a chieftain to be praised.
But what was he, after all,
The Man of Iyochi,
When set beside the lovely one,
His splendid sister?
It was the maid of Omanpeshka
Who took the two-mouthed flagon
And was mistress of the feast.
Over and over again
She filled the cups.
It was a mighty drinking of wine
That she now set going.
But in a little while
There came from the open sea
A sound of gods ascending.
I looked into the faces of the men,
Into the faces of the women.
But among all the men
Not one had heard the sound;
Among all the women
Only the maid of Omanpeshka,
My cousin from the open sea,
She that was sister
To the Man of the Open sea,
Such was her boasted skill
In the arts of magic,
She alone of all that were there
Seemed to me as I watched her
To hear the gods ascending.
For in the very midst of the feasting
She put down the two-mouthed flagon
And blew out of her lip
A mighty blast of breath;
And all those gods that were ascending
Were driven back to the corners of the sea.
And at that very instant
Suddenly the sky grew clear.
Then once more my cousin,
The maid of Omanpeshka
Did the honours of the feast
And it was a mighty drinking of wine
That she now set going.
But in the very midst of the feast,
When the sake was half drunk,
There was a sound this time from the mountain
Of only two men coming down.
What heroes could they be?
For under their feet as they came down
The island was shaken to its roots
And our mountain-castle,
Pillar and post,
By a great wind was shaken,
As though it would be torn to nothing.
Among all the women,
Among all the men
There was none that understood.
Only the maid of Omanpeshka
My cousin, she alone
Understood in her heart.
She with a shrill cry
Threw back her head and spoke:
‘Listen, my brothers,’ she said,
‘Straight upon us from sea-ward
Though gods mounted,
With the magic of my breath
To all the corners of the sea
I sent them back.
But now from the mountains
Though there but two that came
And though I blew hard upon them
Undaunted by my breath
It seems they still bear down upon us.
And now by my witchcraft foretelling
The fate of the battle
For you, my brothers,
Neither for one of you or the other
Do I see any chance of life
In this battle
Only he that takes his name from Shinutápka,
Our little brother,
He alone can live.
But be that as it may,
All will not be well for him;
For on the sword that he, the godly one,
Wears at his waist
From the midst of a sunset cloud
Blood-red on the handle of his sword
The knobs show dimly.
This tells me that even he,
Our godlike brother
May live, or may not live.
It is a thing I cannot know’.
So she spoke, and my brother Otópush
Drawing his sword from the sheath
Held the sword-point to the light.
Then after a little while
He smote his head with the sword-back
And spoke to himself rough words:
‘This carcase of yours
That men so often have found
A tough piece of work--
Is it such that your life,
The god within you,
Can be brought to nothing?’
So he said, and at this,
In the courtyard there rang a sound
Of armoured men leaping.
From what village did they come
These mannerless wretches
Who rudely tugged
At the hanging door-flap,
And burst into the porch?
These rough wretches
Who stretched out their hands
And seizing the pot hook
That dangled over the fire
Shook it till it rattled!
Then, because I would not have them see me,
In a thick cloud
I covered myself about,
Deathly scared lest they should see me
In my human form.
I looked at the first of them;
All his frame seemed covered,
With a zigzag of rock-pools
And between the many pools
Were sharp wedges of rock,
All prickles and spikes.
How could one so covered
Ever be killed, I thought.
The second that came in
Had a coat that gleamed
With the light of quick silver,
With the glint of deadly wolf bane.
The spikes of poison
Stood out prickly on his coat
How could one so covered
Ever be killed, I thought,
As this man came in.
These rough wretches,
Stared at the wine-feast
Grinning as they stared
Then the one that came in first
Spoke in this way:
‘It is not a thing we care for
That the village we come from
Should not be frankly told.
I will name to you our villages--
His village and my own.
Know then that I
Am the Man of the Rock River,
And the chieftain that is with me
Is the Man of the River of Gold.
And here, in your Shinutápka
Which is it among you
Whose fame stands foremost?
For I see none here but slaves.
Whatever fights may be to come,
Let the first match
Be a bout of wrestling
To try our valour.
Which chieftain among you
In fame is foremost?
Let him first stand up
And close with me in battle.’
Who would stand up?
For a long time they hovered,
Each waiting for the other.
At last it was my foster-brother
Who in his ringing voice
Spoke these words:
‘I am he
Who in Shinutápka
Has a name that is his own.’
And so saying, he rose to his feet.

A long battle follows in which the foster-brother and Otópush were both knocked out. I use the term advisedly, because they were not exactly killed. The gods, we are told afterwards, did not accept their souls, and later on they came to life again. The hero, aided by magic animals carved on his sword-sheath, which come to life and take part in the battle, kills for good and all the rock-clad and the quick-silver-clad opponents.

In the next episode a messenger suddenly arrives, asking for help for a lady whom I am going to call Miss Malinger, which is what her name (Nishap-tashum) literally means. She is the sister of a chieftain belonging to the Ishkar confederacy. Having second sight she knew that if her clan went with the other confederates to recover the otter, they would all be killed by the Hero; so she pretended to be ill, and her brother delayed the departure of his army till it was discovered that she was only shamming. Consequently he was late, in coming to the aid of his allies, who were furious and decided to hang Miss Malinger. The messenger, who suddenly arrived at the banquet, had come to ask for the Hero's aid. The Hero at once leaves the banquet and arrives just in time to cut Miss Malinger down. They fall in love and he carries her back as his bride. Soon, however, an enemy carries her off while the Hero is out hunting. There are more battles; Miss Malinger is recovered and the Hero leaves her at home while he goes out to make a final clearance of his enemies.

While he lies on the ground, exhausted by many battles, a beautiful girl appears and bending over him sings:

If such a hero
Fell to my hand
What a boon to my village!

At this moment Miss Malinger, knowing by instinct that he is in danger, appears at his side and casts a spell upon the beautiful girl. The hero steps up to the girl from behind, and undoes one by one the strings of her bodice. The passage that follows is strange and terrible:

Her young breasts
That were like two snowballs
I fondled with my hand.
She looked back over her shoulder
And cried out, ‘Is it you?
I thought you were dead.’
But while she was saying these words
I hewed her limb from limb,
And heard the swish of her soul,
Her evil soul as it rose.
Then Malinger came to me and said,
‘Women should do battle with women
And this my evil sister
Should have fallen to my hand.
But now that, before I could slay her,
A godlike hero
Has meted punishment
We have no more to fear;
Let us go back to our home’.
But I thought to myself,
‘Where is this village of Peshutun
That the girl said she came from?
If without destroying it
I were not to go back home,
Would it not be said I was afraid?’
That was what I thought to myself.

That is the end of the poem. Apparently no version exists that carries the story any further. But the words with which it ends serve elsewhere as a stock introduction to a fresh episode, and the poem (at any rate as we possess it) must be said to break off rather than to end.

There are certain questions that I am sure you will want me to answer. It is not perhaps necessary to remind you that the Ainus were a primitive people living in the northern island of Japan, in the adjacent promontory of Sakhalin and in the Kurile Islands, a people that has now been almost entirely assimilated or died out. You probably know too that the Ainu language is apparently unrelated (apart from the borrowing of culture-words from Gilyak and Japanese) with any other speech. Two facts about them struck Japanese observers from the 18th century onwards--the richness of their oral literature and the length of their beards. This literature includes prose stories, songs, ballads and various kinds of long narrative poem. The long poem I have told you about is the most complete and most celebrated of these, and the one to which the term ‘the Ainu epic’ has generally been applied. It was intoned rather than sung. Each line has two stresses, which the reciter emphasized by tapping with a stick. Old women sometimes recited it, but more commonly the reciter was a man. Women had narrative songs of their own, which generally described how some man had fallen madly in love with them.

You will have noticed that the epic is told in the first person. This is true also of Ainu folk-tales and almost all their narrative literature. It has been suggested that this form is derived from that of shamanistic communications--the hero of the story speaks through the narrator's mouth just as the possessing deity speaks through the mouth of the shaman. But so far as I know this form of narration does not exist in other parts of the world where shamanism is even more extensively cultivated.

The epic was recited in connection with religious ceremonies, at sea when waiting for fish to bite, round the fireside at home on long winter nights, and in fact whenever Ainus had time on their hands. The Ainus were not sure whether the hero would like strangers to know about his doings and when asked by missionaries and others to recite were more apt to tell prose folk-stories. That was why Professor Basil Hall Chamberlain was able to write in 1886, ‘the Ainus have apparently no popular tales of heroes’ and he tells us that an Ainu chief whom he used as his informant could scarcely recollect the name of any man of note, could not tell of one whom the nation had singled out as its favourite hero.

The epic as we possess it today was written down in European script by the Japanese professor Kindaichi during the ’twenties of the 20th century, and published in 1932. Wakarpa, the old blind Ainu from whom he got the epic died before the book came out. Was Wakarpa the Homer who put together a dozen or so hero-ballads and arranged them as a continuous narrative? Some one must, I think, have done this. But Wakarpa entirely disclaimed having done anything of the kind. He insisted that he had merely repeated the epic as he had learnt it. How old (if we accept that Wakarpa was not the author) is the epic likely to be? It is in an archaic form of Ainu; but this is the accepted language of all Ainu heroic songs and ballads, and proves nothing about the date of composition. If we say that it was composed between the 9th and the 20th centuries, we shall not be far wrong; but I fear that you will not find so vague a dating very helpful or illuminating.