A to Z Challenge – J for Japanese Mythology

Hi all,

Hope your week’s off to a good start! You may have noticed that we had a post missing, unfortunately laptop has been playing up again, and since I was visiting family this weekend I didn’t have the desktop for backup. Still, was a good weekend and all set for the busy week ahead now 🙂

okami2guytrippingToday we’re going back to some mythologies, and this time we’re looking in particular at some from Japan. In Japanese folklore, they respect the dual personality of the animal, considering that it could be both benevolent and malevolent.  For example, at night when travelers are lost in the mountains, the wolf at times will escort them to the doors of their homes. In such capacity, these wolves are known as okuri-ôkami or the sending wolf. However, the wolf was also said to turn on some travelers as soon as its home was reached, and also that the wolf could judge between the good or bad and would maul the latter if it came upon them in the mountains.

The wolf has largely been seen by Japanese peasants as a benevolent animal, and there are many village rites that involve or respond to the wolf. In contrast to the wolf’s historical persecution in the West as an evil animal, in Japan if one kills a wolf for whatever reason, that man and his family would fear divine retribution. Also, in certain villages it was a custom to make an offering of food (mainly rice-based) whenever a wolf cub was born; and wolves were sometimes known to make return offerings of meat when a village woman gave birth. Wolves also were said to leave certain kills as a gift for the village, though if the villagers did not leave it a portion of the meat as a return gift, the wolf would grow angry. The wolf was highly regarded as a protector of the rice field, hunting the boars, deer, and hares who would eat the crops.

okamiIn this capacity as a rice field protector, it is associated with the fox or kitsune. The wolf was thought to be the divine messenger of the mountain deity, just as the fox was the messenger of the rice field deity. Farmers all over Japan have traditionally thought that in the winter, after the harvest, the rice field deity ascends to the mountain and becomes the mountain deity, so in this way the fox and wolf are seen as representations of the seasons.

The contradicting, equally benign and perilous natures of the wolf are characteristic of some animals in Japanese folklore. The wolf is a guardian when it is properly attended to and cared for, but can develop a grudge toward mankind if slighted or mistreated. Thus, as a moral judge, the wolf’s actions mirror humanity’s own. Japanese wolf lore tells not of good or bad wolves but of good or bad people.

Princess Mononoke Japanese_Poster_(Movie)The wolf appears in many folktales, one in particular is called The Wolf’s Eyebrows. A man is down on luck and wishes to end his own life, he goes into the mountains in order to find a wolf who will kill and eat him. When he finally meets one, he falls to his knees but the wolf does nothing and the man demands to know why he doesn’t attack him. The wolf replies that they do not eat just anyone; only those who are actually animals disguised as humans. When the man asks how the wolf can tell which these people are if they look just like oher men, the wolf replies that his eyebrows show him a man’s true form, and lends the man an eyebrow hair. The man goes off, and toward nightfall begs for shelter at the nearest house. The old man there is kind, but his old wife refuses. Remembering the eyebrow hair, the man decides to test it, and holds it to his eye: instead of two people, he sees the old man standing next to an old cow. This folktale again expresses the notion that wolves are judges of character, and can somehow tell who is a good person and who is a bad person (an animal).

Take care x