Category: Japanese Folklore
The Diving-Woman Of Oiso Bay
OISO, in the Province of Sagami, has become such a celebrated place as the chosen residence of the Marquis Ito and of several other high Japanese personages, that a story of a somewhat romantic nature, dating back to the Ninan period, may be interesting.
During one of the earlier years of the period, which lasted from '116 to 1169 A. D., a certain knight, whose name was Takadai Jiro, became ill in the town of Kamakura, where he had been on duty, and was advised to spend the hot month of August at Oiso, and there to give himself perfect rest, peace, and quietness.
Having obtained permission to do this, Takadai Jiro lost no time in getting to the place and settling himself down, as comfortably as was possible, in a small inn which faced the sea. Being a landsman who (with the exception of his service at Kamakura) had hardly ever seen the sea, Takadai was pleased to dwell in gazing at it both by day and by night, for, like most Japanese of high birth, he was poetical and romantic.
After his arrival at Oiso, Takadai felt weary and dusty. As soon as he had secured his room he threw off his clothes and went down to bathe. Takadai, whose age was about twenty-five years, was a good swimmer, and plunged into the sea without fear, going out for nearly half-a-mile. There, however, misfortune overtook him. He was seized with a violent cramp and began to sink. A fishing-boat sculled by a man and containing a diving-girl happened to see him and went to the rescue; but by this time he had lost consciousness, and had sunk for the third time.
The girl jumped overboard and swam to the spot where he had disappeared, and, having dived deep, brought him to the surface, holding him there until the boat came up, when by the united efforts of herself and her father Takadai was hauled on board, but not before he had realised that the soft arm that clung round his neck was that of a woman.
When he was thoroughly conscious again, before they had reached the shore, Takadai saw that his preserver was a beautiful ama (diving-girl) aged not more than seventeen. Such beauty he had never seen before--not even in the higher circles in which he was accustomed to move. Takadai was in love with his brave saviour before the boat had grounded on the pebbly beach. Determined in some way to repay the kindness he had received, Takadai helped to haul their boat up the steep beach and then to carry their fish and nets to their little thatched cottage, where he thanked the girl for her noble and gallant act in saving him, and congratulated her father on the possession of such a daughter. Having done this, he returned to his inn, which was not more than a few hundred yards away.
From that time on the soul of Takadai knew no peace. Love of the maddest kind was on him. There was no sleep for him at night, for he saw nothing but the face of the beautiful diving-girl, whose name (he had ascertained) was Kinu. Try as he might, he could not for a moment put her out of his mind. In the daytime it was worse, for O Kinu was not to be seen, being out at sea with her father, diving for the haliotis shell and others; and it was generally the dusk of evening before she returned, and then, in the dim light, he could not see her.
Once, indeed, Takadai tried to speak to O Kinu; but she would have nothing to say to him, and continued busying herself in assisting her father to carry the nets and fish up to their cottage. This made Takadai far worse, and he went home wild, mad, and more in love than ever.
At last his love grew so great that he could endure it no longer. He felt that at all events it would be a relief to declare it. So he took his most confidential servant into the secret, and despatched him with a letter to the fisherman's cottage. O Kinu San did not even write an answer, but told the old servant to thank his master in her behalf for his letter and his proposal of marriage. 'Tell him also,' said she, 'that no good could come of a union between one of so high a birth as he and one so lowly as I. Such a badly matched pair could never make a happy home.' In answer to the servant's expostulation, she merely added, 'I have told you what to tell your master: take him the message.'
Takadai Jiro, on hearing what O Kinu had said, was not angry. He was simply astonished. It was beyond his belief that a fisher-girl could refuse such an offer in marriage as himself--a samurai of the upper class. Indeed, instead of being angry, Takadai was so startled as to be rather pleased than otherwise; for he thought that perhaps he had taken the fair O Kinu San a little too suddenly, and that this first refusal was only a bit of coyness on her part that was not to be wondered at. 'I will wait a day or two,' thought Takadai. 'Now that Kinu knows of my love, she may think of me, and so become anxious to see me. I will keep out of the way. Perhaps then she will be as anxious to see me as I am to see her.'
Takadai kept to his own room for the next three days, believing in his heart that O Kinu must be pining for him. On the evening of the fourth day he wrote another letter to O Kinu, more full of love than the first, despatched his old servant, and waited patiently for the answer.
When O Kinu was handed the letter she laughed and said:
'Truly, old man, you appear to me very funny, bringing me letters. This is the second in four days, and never until four days ago have I had a letter addressed to me in my life. What is this one about, I wonder?'
Saying this, she tore it open and read, and then, turning to the servant, continued: 'It is difficult for me to understand. If you gave my message to your master correctly he could not fail to know that I could not marry him. His position in life is far too high. Is your master quite right in his head?'
'Yes: except for the love of you, my young master is quite right in his head; but since he has seen you he talks and thinks of nothing but you, until even I have got quite tired of it, and earnestly pray to Kwannon daily that the weather may get cool, so that we may return to our duties at Kamakura. For three full days have I had to sit in the inn listening to my young master's poems about your beauty and his love. And I had hoped that every day would find us fishing from a boat for the sweet aburamme fish, which are now fat and good, as every other sensible person is doing. Yes: my master's head was right enough; but you have unsettled it, it seems. Oh, do marry him, so that we shall all be happy and go out fishing every day and waste no more of this unusual holiday.'
'You are a selfish old man,' answered O Kinu. 'Would you that I married to satisfy your master's love and your desire for fishing? I have told you to tell your master that I will not marry him, because we could not, in our different ranks of life, become happy. Go and repeat that answer.'
The servant implored once more; but O Kinu remained firm, and finally he was obliged to deliver the unpleasant message to his master.
Poor Takadai! This time he was distressed, for the girl had even refused to meet him. What was he to do? He wrote one more imploring letter, and also spoke to O Kinu's father; but the father said, 'Sir, my daughter is all I have to love in the world: I cannot influence her in such a thing as her love. Moreover, all our diving-girls are strong in mind as well as in body, for constant danger strengthens their nerves: they are not like the weak farmers' girls, who can be influenced and even ordered to marry men they hate. Their minds are, oftener than not, stronger than those of us men. I always did what Kinu's mother told me I was to do, and could not influence Kinu in such a thing as her marriage. I might give you my advice, and should do so; but, sir, in this case I must agree with my daughter, that, great as the honour done to her, she would be unwise to marry one above her own station in life.'
Takadai's heart was broken. There was nothing more that he could say and nothing more that he could do. Bowing low, he left the fisherman and retired forthwith to his room in the inn, which he never left, much to the consternation of his servant.
Day by day he grew thinner, and as the day approached for his return from leave, Takadai was far more of an invalid than he had been on his arrival at Oiso. What was he to do? The sentiment of the old proverb that 'there are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it' did not in any way appeal to him. He felt that life was no longer worth having. He resolved to end it in the sea, where his spirit might perhaps linger and catch sight occasionally of the beautiful diving-girl who had bewitched his heart.
Takadai that evening wrote a last note to Kinu, and as soon as the villagers of Oiso were asleep he arose and went to the cottage, slipping the note under the door. Then he went to the beach, and, after tying a large stone to a rope and to his neck, he got into a boat and rowed himself about a hundred yards from shore, where he took the stone in his arms and jumped overboard.
Next morning O Kinu was shocked to read in the note that Jiro Takadai was to kill himself for love of her. She rushed down to the beach, but could see only an empty fishing-boat some three or four hundred yards from shore, to which she swam. There she found Takadai's tobacco box and his juro (medicine box). O Kinu thought that Takadai must have thrown himself into the sea somewhere hereabouts: so she began to dive, and was not long before she found the body, which she brought to the surface, after some trouble on account of the weight of the stone which the arms rigidly grasped. O Kinu took the body back to shore, where she found Takadai's old servant wringing his hands in grief.
The body was taken back to Kamakura, where it was buried. O Kinu was sufficiently touched to vow that she would never marry any one. True, she had not loved Takadai; but he had loved, and had died for her. If she married, his spirit would not rest in peace.
No sooner had O Kinu mentally undertaken this generous course than a strange thing came to pass.
Sea-gulls, which were especially uncommon in Oiso Bay, began to swarm into it; they settled over the exact spot where Takadai had drowned himself. In stormy weather they hovered over it on the wing; but they never went away from the place. Fishermen thought it extraordinary; but Kinu knew well enough that the spirit of Takadai must have passed into the gulls, and for it she prayed regularly at the temple, and out of her small savings built a little tomb sacred to the memory of Takadai Jiro.
By the time Kinu was twenty years of age her beauty was celebrated, and many were the offers she had in marriage; but she refused them all, and kept her vow of celibacy. During her entire life the sea-gulls were always on the spot where Takadai had been drowned. She died by drowning in a severe typhoon some nine years later than Takadai; and from that day the sea-gulls disappeared, showing that his spirit was now no longer in fear of O Kinu marrying.
Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan, by Richard Gordon Smith, , at sacred-texts.com
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