Tales of Okuninushi
- Okuninushi and the Rabbit
- The Trials of Okuninushi
Okuninushi and the Rabbit
Okuninushi lived in the land of Izumo in Ashihara-no-nakatsukuni with his numerous brothers. One day, his brothers heard of a goddess of unrivaled beauty named Yagami-hime. She lived in the land of Inaba, and every one of them wanted to ask for her hand in marriage. When they set out for Inaba, they brought Okuninushi along as their servant to carry their baggage, which was so heavy that he soon lagged behind the group.
When his brothers reached Cape Keta in Inaba, they came upon a rabbit lying on the ground that had been stripped of its skin and was crying in pain. The brothers said to the rabbit, “You should wash off in seawater and then climb to the top of a high hill where the winds blow strongly to dry off. You’ll recover very quickly if you do.”
So the rabbit did as it was told, but instead of recovering, things got worse. As the winds blew, its skin dried and cracked, and the salt from the seawater got into its cracked skin. It couldn’t stand the pain, and fell down crying.
When Okuninushi, who was still trailing the group, finally reached Cape Keta, he saw the rabbit crying out in pain, and asked it what had happened.
The rabbit replied, “I’m from the island of Oki, and I wanted to cross over to the mainland. There was no way for me to do it on my own, so I decided to fool the sharks that live in the waters around Oki. I called out to one of the sharks, ‘Let’s see which there are more of, you sharks or us rabbits. Have all your fellow sharks line up one by one from here to Cape Keta, and I’ll count you. Then we’ll know for sure which group is bigger.’ ”
“And they did just like I said. So I ran over them, counting each one, and just as I was about to reach land, I said, ‘I just tricked you all into doing what I wanted.’ Just then, the last shark in the line caught me and bit my fur right off me. As I was lying here, a large group of gods came along and told me to wash off in seawater and then go where the wind would dry me off. I did what they told me, but now things are even worse.”
Hearing this, Okuninushi told the rabbit, “Go to that river over there and wash off in fresh water. Then gather some cattails, spread them out on the ground and roll over them. You’ll be as good as new in no time.” So the rabbit did as it was told, and soon it had completely healed.
Then the rabbit said to Okuninushi, “Your brothers will never earn the love of Yagami-hime. Even though you look like a poor servant, she will fall in love with and marry you.” When Okuninushi finally arrived at Yagami-hime’s palace, the rabbit’s prediction came true. Yagami-hime said to his brothers, “I will have nothing to do with any of you. Okuninushi is the one I will marry.”
Hearing this, his brothers were enraged, and they decided to kill Okuninushi. Each time they tried, his mother came to his rescue and was able to save him, but their plots became so frequent that his mother said to him, “If you stay here, your brothers will succeed in killing you.” So Okuninushi fled far away, to the house of Susano-o in the land of Ne, the Underworld.
This bronze statue of Okuninushi and the rabbit of Inaba is on the grounds of Izumo Taisha.
Cape Keta, where Okuninushi met the rabbit of Inaba.
Visiting Locations featured in these stories
The rabbit that Okuninushi and his brothers encountered came from the Oki Islands, a group of islands about 50 kilometers off the coast of Shimane in the Sea of Japan. The land of Inaba, where Yagami-hime was from, is in the eastern part of Tottori Prefecture, as is Cape Keta, where Okuninushi and the rabbit met. A sculpture that recreates this meeting can be found on the grounds of Izumo Taisha, as that is where Okuninushi is enshrined. Yomotsu Hirasaka, the entrance to the Underworld, once again makes an appearance in a Shimane-related myth. It can be found in the Higashi Izumo area of Matsue City.
While Yagami-hime was on her way to Izumo, it is said that she stopped and bathed in the waters of a hot spring she found bubbling out of the ground in a valley. Not only did the waters refresh her from the long journey she had taken, but they also made her even more beautiful than she already was. This hot spring is Yunokawa Hot Spring in the Hikawa area of Izumo City. It is one of many hot springs throughout the prefecture that are said to have been enjoyed by both regular people since ancient times and by the gods even before that. Yunokawa Hot Spring is also famous for being one of the three “Bijin no Yu”, hot springs in Japan well known for their promise of beauty for those who bathe in their waters. Also in Hikawa is Mii Shrine, which has three wells on its grounds that are said to have been used by Yagami-hime when she gave birth to the child she had with Okuninushi.