Enjoying Otogi Zoshi with the Help of Synopsis and Illustrations, Ninth Story ; Tamamo-no-mae
During the reign of Emperor Konoe, in around 1155, a servant-girl worked in devotion at the Court of Cloistered Emperor Toba. Later, she would come to be called Tamamo-no-mae, the smartest and most beautiful woman in the whole country and perhaps the world. Mysteriously, Tamamo-no-mae's body naturally exuded a lovely scent, and her clothes stayed beautiful all day. She was therefore not just an overwhelming favorite of Emperor Toba. Everyone in the court was infatuated with her.
What is more, Tamamo-no-mae was not just beautiful, she was also extremely knowledgeable. She looked a mere twenty years old, but there was nothing she did not know. Whatever the question asked of her was, she would grin and reply in easily understood words.
So strange was it, the Emperor decided to go and test Tamamo-no-mae, and he asked her a question on one particularly difficult Buddhist teaching. When he did, Tamamo-no-mae replied by explaining with a word for word quote from a volume written long ago by some great monks. The Emperor and all the other courtesans were stunned when they heard this.
Then, the Emperor prepared an even tougher riddle.
"In the sky there is what they call the 'Milky Way.' What really is it?"
"How should someone like me know? But I think it is probably the spirit of the clouds."
"Indeed. The spirit of the clouds ... interesting."
The Emperor was awestruck.
So deep was the favor that Tamamo-no-mae earned with the Emperor that he kept her at his side day and night. He cherished her as if she was his empress.
Sometime around September 20, there was a performance of poetry and music at the Seiryoden, the serene, cool chamber.
The Emperor took her along and they sat within the bamboo blinds. Just at that moment, a strong wind rushed through, blowing out the fire of the lanterns, and the room was plunged into darkness.Yet in an instant, there seemed to be light emanating from Tamamo-no-mae's body. Surprised, the honorable ministers looked around and realized that the light was spilling from within the bamboo blinds that surrounded her. The light was like the morning sun.
Ignoring the music, the Emperor declared in response to the minister's enquiries, "She is quite a mystery. There is no doubt that she is the embodiment of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva." When the bamboo blinds were raised, it became brighter than noon even though it was darkest night. The light was just like a glowing bulb, and that is how she came to be known as Tamamo-no-mae.
Upon the command to "ask Tamamo-no-mae something you want to know," a young courtesan stepped forth with a question about the orchestra. Tamamo-no-mae answered this too with ease, leaving everyone present speechless with admiration. Afterwards, she revealed her knowledge of how all things came into being, from the musical instruments of the lute and the flute to stationary, fans and carriages, surprising people even more.
The Emperor may have seemed quite fearful, but drawn to the beauty of Tamamo-no-mae, he had exchanged deep vows with her.
However, the Emperor was suddenly taken ill, and with no idea of the reason, he became sicker by the day.
According to the diagnosis of the chief court physician, the sickness had been brought on by evil, and therefore was not something that a doctor could treat.
So he went to see the fortune teller Yasunari. Yasunari cast his fortune. He divined that something big would happen to the Emperor, and told him to start praying immediately. The whole palace went into a frenzy. High monks were brought from temples everywhere and made to pray en masse. So he went to see the fortune teller Yasunari. Yasunari cast his fortune. He divined that something big would happen to the Emperor, and told him to start praying immediately. The whole palace went into a frenzy. High monks were brought from temples everywhere and made to pray en masse.
However, the prayers were having no effect whatsoever, and the Emperor's condition simply continued to worsen. Shedding tears, he took Tamamo-no-mae by the hand and cried to her, "Such a pity that I shall die, to leave you behind ..." Upon hearing this, Tamamo-no-mae, still prostrate and wailing, replied, "So kindly allowing such a pitiable creature as myself to serve you would have been for nought if you were to leave us, I could not live. I will be devoted to you wherever we are."
The prayers were getting nowhere. One by one the monks began to leave.
When Yasunari was asked to cast the Emperor's fortune once again, he seemed to be having trouble talking. Finally, he was told, "Don't be scared, just say it," and so the fortune teller said, "The Emperor is ill because of Tamamo-no-mae. If Tamamo-no-mae goes far away you will surely get better."
The troubled nobles pressed him for more details. It turned out that Tamamo-no-mae was really a hundred-year-old fox living on the Nasuno Plain in Shimotsuke-no-Kuni (present day Tochigi). The fox was 42 feet tall and had two tails. Disguised as a beautiful woman, he would gain access to the ruler and shorten his life in a devilish plot to take over as ruler.
People secretly told the Emperor this, but he did not believe them. Meanwhile, he continued to get sicker and sicker.
Following Yasunari's advice, the Emperor was to worship the god Taizan-fukun, and Tamamo-no-mae was ordered to make an offering to the gods. Although she disdained the task immediately as a wearisome chore, she was persuaded to assent to it by the ministers who said that if this cured the Emperor, she would gain admiration.
So that very day, Tamamo-no-mae, more smartly dressed than ever, in the middle of reading a formula and looking as though she was about to ceremonially wave a hemp cloth, suddenly disappeared. Just as Yasunari had predicted, she was indeed a fox in disguise.
Everyone was racking their brains: How to get rid of this fox? Many worried about whether it was possible to eradicate such a creature with human strength, but finally, believing they could pull it off by gathering together all the reputed archers of the land, they decided the warriors would hunt the fox.
The most superb warriors of the day were said to be Kazusa-nosuke and Miura-nosuke. The Emperor ordered them to hunt down the fox. Accepting the Emperor's orders, they purified themselves, proclaimed that there was no higher honor and roused their families and retainers to join the mission. Then they set out, the two warriors galloping off ahead of their entourage.
As they pushed into the grasses of the wide Nasuno Plain, they came upon the two-tailed fox they had all heard about. Everyone chased the fox to lay their hands on some of the glory, but as it was a creature with supernatural powers, the fox cleverly escaped.
So the fighters withdrew for a time, planning another attempt with a new attack strategy using martial arts. Kazusa-nosuke practiced hitting a ball dropped from his horse, and Miura-nosuke practiced with his bow and arrow using dogs instead of foxes as targets.
Then, they set out for Nasuno Plain to once again hunt the fox, but after seven days they had achieved nothing and by then, the retainers could not hide their tiredness. Kazusa-nosuke and Miura-nosuke swore that they would never return to their hometown alive, such would be the disgrace of somehow failing to hunt down the fox, and they prayed to the gods for their grace.
Then, Miura-nosuke took a short nap during which he had a dream. In his dream, a beautiful women of about 20 appeared and begged him, crying, "Tomorrow I will regrettably lose my life to you. Please save me." When he woke up, Miura-nosuke, who had refused her on no uncertain terms in his dream, rounded up the entourage and led the charge forth, proclaiming that today was the day that they would bring down the fox.
Just at daybreak, a certain fox attempted to flee for the mountains.
Miura-nosuke whipped his horse and approached the fox, then shot his arrow. The arrow made a perfect direct hit on the fox, and it tumbled to the ground. "Gotcha!" he cried, dismounting his horse. As he goes got closer, the creature was more wondrous than any rumor had hinted.
The corpse of the fox was soon taken to the capital, and Kazusa-nosuke and Miura-nosuke went to the capital as well. Even the Emperor was impressed with this unprecendented achievement, and a re-creation of the fox hunt was held in the presence of the Emperor at the very spot on the Nasuno Plain where it had taken place. Everybody went along to witness the performance.
The body of the fox certainly gave birth to a variety of rare treasures.
** The End **
This picture scroll features some illustrations that are not inserted where they should be according to the original work. Here, judgment of the correct order has been left to the discretion of the webpage creator. This picture scroll features some illustrations that are not inserted where they should be according to the original work. (Referred to as "sakkan" in Japanese.) Here, judgment of the correct order has been left to the discretion of the webpage creator.
For example, drawing no. 3 comes after the orchestra discussion in the picture scroll, but because there are no musicians or instruments in the picture, it is thought to be a drawing of another scene. Therefore, we surmised that it was probably a picture of the introduction of Tamamo-no-mae, a scene where she was effortlessly answering all sorts of riddles.
The opinions of researchers are also of some help. According to Tomoko Kawashima, the depiction of the hunt, when compared to the other book pictures, appears to be closer to a depiction of the first, failed hunt than of the final one where the fox was hunted down. (Notes to Accompany "Tamamo-no-mae", Japanese Literature Research Department, Kyoto University, ed. "Kyoto University Tales of Muromachi" Rinsen Book Co., October 2001). Indeed, this prompted another look and indeed, the fox in the picture does appear to be wearing an unworried grin on his face, and does not appear to be in danger of being caught.
In this way, we changed to order of the pictures to match the flow of the story as much as possible. However, we do not know if this order is the correct one. Nevertheless, we stand by this order as one possibility.
Copyright 2001. Kyoto University Library