Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan, by Richard Gordon Smith, , at sacred-texts.com
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32. Kume Slays the Eagle, Torijima
MANY years ago there lived a Daimio called Tarao. His castle and home were at Osaki, in Osumi Province, and amongst his retinue was a faithful and favourite servant whose name was Kume Shuzen. Kume had long been land-steward to the Lord Tarao, and indeed acted for him in everything connected with business.
One day Kume had been despatched to the capital, Kyoto, to attend to business for his master, when the Daimio Toshiro of Hyuga quarrelled with the Daimio of Osumi over some boundary question, and, Kume not being there to help his master, who was a hasty person, the two clans fought at the foot of Mount Kitamata.
[paragraph continues] The Lord Tarao of Osumi was killed, and so were most of his men. They were most completely beaten. The survivors retired to their lord's castle at Osaki; but the enemy followed them up, and again defeated them, taking the castle.
Messengers had been despatched to bring back Kume, of course; but Kume decided that there was only one honourable thing to do, and that was to gather the few remaining samurai he could and fight again in his dead master's behalf. Unfortunately, only some fifty men came to his call. These, with Kume, hid in the mountains with the intention of waiting until they had recruited more. One of Toshiro's spies found this out, and all except Kume were taken prisoners.
Being hotly pursued, Kume hid himself in the daytime, and made for the sea by night. After three clays he reached Hizaki, and there, having bought all the provision he could carry, hid himself until an opportunity should come of seizing a boat in the darkness, hoping to baffle his pursuers.
Kume was no sailor; in fact, he had hardly ever been in a boat, and never except as a passenger. There was no difficulty in finding a boat. He pushed it off and let it drift, for he could not use the oar, and understood nothing about a sail. Fortunately, Hizaki is a long cape on the S.E. coast, facing the open Pacific, and therefore there was no difficulty in getting away, the wind being favourable and the tide as well; besides, there is here a strong current always travelling south towards the Loochoos. Kume was more or less indifferent as to where he went, and even if he had cared he could not
have helped himself, for, though his knowledge of direction on land was very good, as soon as he found himself out of sight of land he was lost. All he knew was that where the sun rose there was no land which he could reach, that China lay in the direction in which it set, and that to the south there were islands which were reputed to hold savages, Nambanjin (foreign southern savages). Thus Kume drifted on, he knew not whither, lying in the bottom of the boat, and in no way economising his provisions; and it naturally came to pass that at the end of the second day he had no water left, and suffered much in consequence.
Towards morning on the fifth day Kume lay half-asleep in the bottom of the boat. Suddenly he felt it bump.
'What ho, she bumps!' said he to himself in his native tongue, and, sitting up, he found he had drifted on to a rocky island. Kume was not long in scrambling ashore and dragging his boat as high as he was able. The first thing he set about doing was to find water to quench his thirst. As he wandered along the rocky shore hunting for a stream, Kume knew that the island could not be inhabited, for there were tens of thousands of sea-fowl perched upon the rocks, feeding along the beach and floating on the water; others were sitting on eggs. Kume could see that he was not likely to starve while the birds were breeding, and he could see, moreover, that fish were there in abundance, for birds of the gannet species were simply gorging themselves with a kind of iwashi (sardine), which made the surface of the calm sea frizzle into foam in their endeavours to
escape the larger fish that were pursuing them from underneath. Shoals of flying-fish came quite close to shore, pursued by the magnificent albacore; which clearly showed that fishermen did not visit these parts. Shell-fish were in plenty in the coral pools, and among them lay, thickly strewn, the smaller of the pearl mussels with which Kume was familiar in his own country.
There was no sand on this island—that is to say, on the seashore. Everything seemed to be of coral formation, except that there was a thick reddish substance on the top of all, out of which grew low scrubby trees bearing many fruits, which Kume found quite excellent to eat. There was no trouble in finding water: there were several streams flowing down the beach and coming from the thick scrub.
Kume returned to his boat, to make sure that it was safe, and, having found a better cove for it, he moved it thither. Then, having eaten some more fruit and shellfish and seaweed, Kume lay down to sleep, and to think of his dead master, and wonder how he could eventually avenge him on the Daimio Toshiro of Hyuga.
When morning broke Kume was not a little surprised to see some eight or nine figures of people, as he first thought, sleeping; but when it grew lighter he found that they were turtles, and it was not long before he was on shore and had turned one; but then, recollecting that there was plenty of food without taking the life of a beast so much venerated, he let it go. 'Perhaps,' thought he, like Urashima, my kindness to the turtle may save me. Indeed, these turtles may be messengers or retainers of the Sea King's Palace!'
One thing that Kume now decided was to learn to row and sail his boat. He set to that very morning, and almost mastered the art of using the immense sculling oar used by present and ancient Japanese alike. In the afternoon he visited the highest part of his island; but it was not high enough to enable him to see land, though he thought at one time that he could discern that faint line of blue on the horizon which prophesies distant land.
However, he was safe for the time; he had food in plenty, and water; true, the birds somewhat bothered him, for they did not act as might have been expected. There seemed something uncanny in the way they sat on their perches and watched him. He did not like that, and often threw a stone at them; but even that had little effect—they only seemed to look more serious.
Though Kume was no sailor, he was a good enough swimmer, as are most Japanese who live anywhere along the sea provinces, and he was quite able to dive in moderation and up to a depth of three Japanese fathoms—fifteen feet. Thus it was that Kume spent all the time he was not practising in his boat in diving for shellfish; he soon found that there were enormous quantities of pearl oysters, which contained beautiful pearls; and, having collected some fifty or sixty, large and small, he cut one of the sleeves of his coat and made a bag which he determined to fill. One day while Kume was diving about after his pearls and shell-fish, he found that by looking in the holes of rocks beneath the low-tide level he could find pearls that had fallen from the dead and rotten shells above; in one case they were like gravel, and he took them out of a cavity by handfuls. Discoloured
they certainly were; but Kume knew them from their roundness of shape, and rubbing with sand or earth soon proved them to be pearls. Thus it was that he worked with renewed energy, hoping all the time to make sufficient money to be able eventually to avenge his dead master.
One day, some six weeks after he had landed on the island, he saw a distant sail. Through the day he watched it carefully; but it did not seem to come or go much nearer, and Kume came to the conclusion that it must be the sail of a stationary fishing-boat, for there was breeze enough to have taken it oil out of sight twice over since he had watched, if it had wanted to go.
'Surely there must be land somewhere over there beyond the boat: it would not be there for half a day if not. To-morrow, now that I can manage to sail and row my boat, I will start on an expedition and see. I do not expect to find my own countrymen there; but I may find Chinese who may be friendly, and if I find the southern savages I shall not, with my good Japanese sword, be afraid of them!'
Next morning Kume provisioned his boat with fruit, water, shell-fish, and eggs, and, tying his bag of pearls about him, set sail in a south-westerly direction. There was little wind, and the boat went slowly; but Kume steered steadily all night, as was natural, considering the little he knew. He dared not go to sleep and thus perhaps lose all idea of the direction whence he had come. Thus it came that when morning broke the sun rose on his port side, and he found himself not more than some four miles from an island which lay
right ahead of him. Quite elated with his first success in navigation, Kume seized his oars and helped the boat along. On reaching the land his reception was anything but pleasant. At least one hundred angry savages were on the beach with spears and staves; but what were they (as my translator asks) to a Japanese samurai? Fifteen of them were put out of action without his getting a scratch, for Kume was well up in all the defensive arts that his military training had given him, and the tricks in jujitsu were familiar to him.
The rest of his adversaries became frightened and began to run. Kume caught one of them, and tried to ask what island this was, and what kind of people they were. By signs he explained that he was a Japanese and in no way an enemy, but on the contrary wished to be friendly, and, as they could see, he was alone. Greatly impressed with Kume's prowess, and glad that he did not wish to resume hostilities, the natives stuck their spears point-downwards in the sand, and came forward to Kume, who sheathed his sword and proceeded to examine the fifteen men he had laid low. Eleven of these had fallen by some clever jujitsu trick, and were to all intents and purposes dead; but Kume took them in various ways and restored them to life by a well-known art called kwatsu (really artificial breathing), which has been practised in Japan for hundreds of years in connection with some secret jujitsu tricks which are said to kill you—unless some one is present who knows the art of kwatsu you must die if left for over two hours without being restored. At present it is illegal to kill temporarily even though you know the art of kwatsu. Kume restored nine of his
fallen enemies, which in itself was considered to be a marvellous performance, and gained him much respect. Two others were dead. The rest had wounds from which they recovered.
Peace being established, Kume was escorted by the chief to the village and given a hut to himself, and he found the people kind and agreeable. A wife was given to him, and Kume settled down to the life of the island, and to learn the language, which in many ways resembled his own.
Sugar and yams were the principal things planted,—with, of course, rice in the hills and where there was sufficient water for terracing,—but fishing formed the principal occupation of all. Four or five times a-year the islanders were visited by a junk which bought their produce, and exchanged things they wanted for it—such as beds, iron rods, calico, and salt. After three months' residence Kume was able to talk the language a little, and had managed to narrate his adventures; moreover, he had explained that the island from which he had sailed—he had named it Torijima, 1 on account of the birds there—was a far better island than their own for all marine produce. 'Do, my friends,' said Kume, 'accompany me over there and see. I have shown you my pearls. I am not much of a diver; but, for those that are divers there are as many as you can wish—also sea-slugs, bêche-de-mer, and namako of the very best kinds.'
'Do you know that the island which you call "Tori" is bewitched?' they asked. 'It is impossible to go there, for there is a gigantic bird which comes twice a-year and
kills all men who have ventured to land. It could not have been there when you were, or you could not have lived a day.'
'Well, my friends,' said Kume, 'I am not afraid of a bird, and, as you have been very kind to me, I should like to show you my Torijima, for, though small, it is better than your island for all the things which come from the sea, and you would say so if you came. Please say that some of you will accompany me.'
At last thirty men said they would go; that would be three boat-loads of them.
Accordingly, next evening they started, and, as the direction was well known to the Loochooans, they reached the shores of Torijima just as the sun arose.
Kume's boat arrived first. Though he had been fully warned of the great bird which must have been absent when he was in the island, Kume landed alone, and was proceeding up the shore when an immense eagle with a body larger than his own swept down on him and began to fight. Kume, being a Japanese, immediately cut the monster in half.
From that day Torijima has been settled on by fishermen, and has afforded more pearls, coral, and fish than the other, which they named Kumijima, and sometimes Shuzen shima (both being his names); moreover, Kume Shuzen was made the king of both islands. Kume never got back to Japan to avenge his master the Lord Tarao. Indeed, he was better off than he had ever been before, and lived a happy life on the two wild Loochoo islands, which had not yet come under the Chinese rule, being too small to be thought of.
After some fifteen years Kume died and was buried on Kumijima. My story-teller says that those who visit the Loochoos and pass Kumijima will notice from the sea a monument erected to Kume Shuzen.
168:1 It is impossible to say exactly to which of the Torijima islands this story relates. There are two—one a rock islet some sixty miles east of Okinawajima, the main island on which is the capital of all the islands, Nafa; and the other or larger Torijima, between longitude 128° and 129°, and not far south of latitudinal line 38°. My story-teller declares the tale to be about the Rocky Island South, which charts show as 60 feet above water at high tide, by reason of there being an island adjacent called Kumeshima; while I argue that it is more probably about the northern Torijima, adjacent to which is a large island named Takuneshima, which might very well have been meant for Kumeshima. With Japanese, Chinese, and English names, these islands are very puzzling. The Japanese, though excellent map-makers, are bad geographers, changing names as they think fit.
175:1 Tori-bird Island.