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I suppose there are very few persons now residing in Japan who doubt that the Ainu once inhabited, at all events, the whole of Japan proper, north of Sendai. And, indeed, there appears to be ample proof showing that they also penetrated farther south even than Tokyo.
The scene of the following legend is laid in the northern part of Japan, probably in the province of Nambu or Tsugaru. It is said that Okikurumi and his wife were very old people when they taught the Ainu how to cut down trees, and that this is the last act Okikurumi did among the Ainu, for both he and his wife ascended to heaven riding upon the sound of a falling tree and enveloped in fire. In fact, I am told that the act here recorded took place after Okikurumi's death, but that he was sent down from heaven with the express purpose of assisting the Ainu to fell a "metal pine tree," and, having accomplished this work, he returned thither. It is a curious legend, and I confess that I cannot quite understand its drift; however, I will record it here as another specimen of curious Ainu folk-lore.
|1.||At the head of Japan there was a metal pine tree.|
|2.||Now, the ancients, both noble and ignoble, came together and broke and bent their swords (upon that tree).|
|3.||Then there came a very old man and a very old woman upon the scene.|
|4.||The old man had a useless old axe in his girdle, and the old woman a useless old reaping hook.|
|5.||So they caused the ancients to laugh at them.|
|6.||Even the ancients were unable to cut down the tree, so they said: "Old man and old woman, what have you come hither to do?"|
|7.||The old man said:—"We have only come that we may see."|
|8.||As the old man said this he drew his useless old axe and striking the metal pine tree cut a little way into it,|
|9.||And the old woman, drawing her uselesss old p. 138 reaping hook, struck the tree and cut it through.|
|10.||There was a mighty crash; the earth trembled with the fall.|
|11.||Then the old man and woman passed up upon the sound thereof, and a fire was seen upon their sword-scabbards.|
|12.||The ancients saw this and greatly wondered, and then they understood that it was Okikurumi and his wife.|
Verses 1, 2. The words I have translated by "at the head of Japan," are, in Ainu: Samoro moshiri, moshiri paketa, and this means "at the north" or "north-eastern" or "eastern end of the island of Nippon." Samoro moshiri is never used to designate Yezo.
"Metal pine tree" rather indicates that the pine trees were very beautiful rather than that they were really made of metal. The word kani, "metal," was often used in ancient times to express a thing of beauty. Thus:—Kani pon kasa, "a pretty hat;" kani chisei, "a magnificent house;" kani to, "a beautiful lake;" kani nitai, "a delightful forest," and so on. However, verse 2 shows us that not beauty only is indicated here, but also hardness; for the ancients bent and broke their "swords" (the Ainu had no axes) in trying to fell this "metal pine tree." The word I have translated by "ancients" is, in Ainu, Kamui, which is a term applied to the gods, but the words nupuru and nupan, "noble and ignoble," or "high and low," show that men are here intended.
For a discussion of the term kamui see Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. xvi, pt. i, page 17 et seq.
Verse 3. The words nowenchikko and nowenpakko are terms applied only p. 139 to Japanese of very ripe old age. Chikko and bakko are said to be ancient Japanese words meaning respectively, "old man" and "old woman."
Verses 4-7. The ancients had been working hard to fell that tree, therefore they thought it ridiculous that such an old couple with such poor tools should come to try their hand. Say they:—"Old man and old woman, what have you came hither to do?" "Merely to look at you," says the old man; "we have only come that we may see." The old gentleman appears to have been a little sarcastic, for verses eight to eleven say that he struck the tree with his useless old axe and made a little cut in it and that the old woman gave it a blow with her useless old reaping hook, and the tree fell with a mighty crash, so that the earth trembled with the fall thereof; and, with the sound of the mighty crash, and in a cloud of fire they both ascended to heaven. Then, says verse eleven, the Ainu understood that the old man and woman were no other than Yoshitsune and his wife! So ends the legend.
It may be asked, "who was Okikurumi's (Yoshitsune's) wife?" This question I will dismiss by merely saying that I do not know. Possibly we may be able to learn in the near future. I have heard, however, that he married an Ainu woman called "Turesh Machi," but this only means "the younger of a house." We can produce no positive evidence showing who she may have been.
The moral the Ainu teach from this legend is:—"Let not the younger laugh at the elder, for even the very old people can teach their juniors a great deal, even in so simple a matter as felling trees."
* Kaori is the tune of tone of voice in which this legend is recited.